Ever looked at your new, beautiful baby and thought ‘the head’s a little flat’? Your precious little baby might actually have positional plagiocephaly, also known as ‘flat head syndrome’. It means a baby’s head is slightly flat, or even pointy, on one side. You might be puzzled about what this means or how it even happened, whether it means something more serious, whether it’s permanent, and so on. So let’s get to those questions right away.
How does it happen?
A baby’s skull is soft and malleable. This allows his head to grow properly, but it also means that external pressure can make it flatten a bit when he lies on his back. Your baby could be born naturally with a flat skull, in which case your doctor will make sure to check up on it as the baby grows. Generally, nowadays parents try not to let their babies sleep face down too much (to prevent SIDS), although baby heads can flatten if you let them sleep on their backs (it’s still what you should be doing, however). It can also happen if your baby lies on his back a lot on car seats and swings.
Infants sleep a lot, and if they tend to sleep on their backs at the same spot every day, there’s a chance of developing flat head syndrome. It can happen commonly in premature babies, and also when the mother is carrying multiple babies, in which case the pressure can create issues like a flat head. Pressure can also be caused during a very long labour, or if the delivery involves forceps or vacuums or anything of the kind, which can alter the shape of the baby’s skull.
Tight muscles in the neck (or torticollis) can also cause flat head syndrome. So your baby might have trouble moving his head from side to side, so he just keeps it in the same spot when lying down.
Is there a cure?
Flathead syndrome usually isn’t a big concern. Here are some ways you can help while your baby is having trouble:
- Tummy time is important. This is when your baby spends time on his tummy, and you need to make sure this is always supervised so there are no risks. This is useful not just to give the back of his head the usual shape, but also to make his neck muscles stronger and allow him to push his weight on his arms. Tummy time should be for 10-15 minutes at a time, at least 3 times a day, and always supervised.
- Try to pick your baby up more often. Whenever he rests against the car seat or a swing, for example, he’s placing his head on a flat surface. While obviously at times it’s necessary to let your baby sleep, whenever he’s just sitting around, pick him up and hold him.
- SImply lay your baby down in a different position when you put him to sleep in the crib. Lay him in such a way so that he turns his head to the non-flat side to look out into the rest of the room.
- If your baby continues to sleep on a certain side, resulting in a flat head, try to shift his position carefully when he sleeps.
Is it something to worry about?
Usually, flat head syndrome improves as babies age. It doesn’t really seem to hinder development in any way (although there’s still research being done on this). When your baby gets a little older and can sit up, it will probably get less noticeable and will improve with time.
If you’re worried it’s not improving, a physical therapist might help, especially with the torticollis. Sometimes doctors can prescribe helmets for babies to restrict growth in the non-flat areas and even out the proportions, but this isn’t always required. Corrective surgery might be required, but only in extreme and rare cases.
On the whole, this is definitely not an issue to be tearing your hair over. Yes, you might be a little worried about how it looks, but once your baby starts growing more hair you won’t even be able to see it. As long as it doesn’t affect your baby in any other way, you’ll find it’s slowly diminishing as a problem in most cases.