Is your baby showing signs of flat head syndrome and you don’t know whether you should panic?
Take a deep breath and calm down. Flat head syndrome is common and fixable. There are only a few cases in which the baby needs medical intervention.
Before you rush for the phone to call your pediatrician, keep reading to learn what the syndrome means, what causes it, and how to prevent it. You will find out what to do to improve your baby’s condition and when you will need medical support.
Overall, it’s a condition you shouldn’t stress over, but it is one you should take action to avoid or correct.
What is flat head syndrome?
Ever since the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended that babies be placed on their backs to sleep to reduce the risk of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome), “pediatricians have seen an increase in the number of children with positional plagiocephaly, or positional skull deformities (flat heads).” (1)
Positional plagiocephaly refers to the appearance of an asymmetrical flattening of the skull due to the baby’s head being continuously pressed against something flat – like a mattress, a carrier, a car seat, or a stroller.
Since a baby’s skull is still soft (as it needs to allow the incredible brain development to come in their first few years) it tends to mold quickly to things. Therefore, babies who are always lying in a reclined position have their skull bones constantly pressed up against something flat, creating the flatness of flat head syndrome.
The condition can also be seen with newborns due to their position in the womb. Breech babies press their heads against the rib cage of the mother, and multiple babies are often crammed in the womb, so many parents have to deal with this issue.
How to prevent flat-headedness
It is never too early to start protecting your baby’s head from flattening. However, it can get too late at one point. All babies are prone to it. So if you’re not dealing wit it yet, know that your baby is not immune. The obvious thing to do is to limit the time baby spends on his back or on the side where you have noticed the flattening.
Floor time, where baby can roll her head from side to side to round out the skull, and tummy time will help reduce the risk of flattening.
More importantly, spending time in the arms of loving parents (whether via carrying or babywearing) will do the trick!
Babywearing is especially beneficial as it helps baby engage her core and neck muscles, making her stronger and preparing her body for lifting her head, rolling over, and sitting up.
Another option is to pick baby up from a car seat or baby chair she fell asleep in. You probably don’t want to wake her, we know! Leaving her in a car seat or carrier means her head is stuck in one position and highly prone to flat-headedness.
Will baby flat head syndrome correct itself?
A flat head can become less visible in time. As the child grows, his facial features will develop and become more prominent, and the hair will grow out and will become thicker, thus better covering the head. Even so, parents should consult a doctor to avoid the consequences of self-diagnosis. Although a flat head is established after a brief examination of the baby and the doctor does not need an X-ray or a CT scan to determine the condition, seeing a doctor about it is best.
Although a flat head syndrome is established after a brief examination of the baby and the doctor does not need an X-ray or a CT scan to determine the condition, seeing a doctor about it is best.
For mild cases of flat head syndrome, simple positional adjustments may be enough. However, severe cases may be a sign of craniosynostosis, a condition in which the bones of the skull fuse together sooner than they should. This prevents the brain from developing normally and that can have other complications. In such cases, the doctor may refer the matter to a neurosurgeon or to a craniofacial plastic surgeon.
How to treat baby flat head syndrome
As mentioned above, there are several causes as well as specific courses of action in the case of this syndrome. For mild positional plagiocephaly, simple changes in the daily routine of the mother and baby should be enough.
This means wearing/carrying baby more and getting in floor time while making sure you put toys on either side of her to encourage her to turn her head from side to side.
If your baby has a flat spot on the side of the head due to sleeping with the head turned to only one side, towards a light, for example, try placing her in a reversed position so that she will have to turn the other way to see the same light. Alternating feeding positions is just as important.
These are the simplest solutions for the mild cases parents manage to catch early on. However, should torticollis be the problem, physical therapy, and exercises will be the doctor’s recommendation. Also, there are cases in which positional adjustment is not enough, and baby will need some medical accessories or orthotics.
Treatment with pillows
There is also a middle ground between positional adjustment and orthotics. These are special pillows that offer neck support while keeping the back of the head elevated and far from the mattress. By not applying pressure to the same area regularly, the skull develops naturally. These pillows are great in cases that are too complicated for simple routine changes and for babies who already have a prominent and visible flat spot.
If you wish to be extra cautious, you can also throw in a pillow for the car seat if baby often takes long car rides.
Treatment with helmets
Baby helmets might sound scary but they are actually very comfortable to wear and helpful. This piece of orthotic equipment is lightweight and custom-fitted according to a 3D photographic image of baby’s head. Some parents may be under the impression that the helmet hinders the child. In fact, they tend to accept it unexpectedly fast.
This type of therapy usually lasts between two to six months, and is successful when started around 6 months. The later it gets, the lower the chances of correction are.
The helmet will mold the shape of the head, and it will prevent it from flattening further. However, this is not something parents can simply go out and get buy themselves. Such a treatment can cost up to $4,000, and the recommendation must come from a doctor. Hopefully, medical insurance will cover it!
The success rates of all methods described above are very high especially if you do it before the age of 6 months and at the recommendation of a doctor. Parents may notice the problem by themselves and they can try changing their baby’s routines to see whether or not the shape of the head changes.
Taking some pictures of baby’s head on several days to show the doctor how the flat spot is evolving would also be a good idea. All in all, although this is not something parents should worry sick about, flat head syndrome is still one of those things you need to take action against at the right time.
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