Flat Head Syndrome: What Is It?

Flat Head Syndrome: What Is It?

Posted by Kerry Nevins on

Have you ever noticed a flat spot on the back or side of your baby's head? If so, your child may have plagiocephaly or brachycephaly, often known as flat head syndrome, which normally resolves with time and a few simple preventive measures. Continue reading to discover more about flat head syndrome, why it occurs, and how to prevent and treat it.

What Is Flat Head Syndrome?

Your baby's skull's plate-like bones stay flexible and malleable enough to be shaped for many months after birth, allowing room for your brain a grow. The weight of the head can generate a flat patch on the back or side of the skull if your baby spends a lot of time lying on his or her back (or, less typically, due to his or her position in the uterus before birth).

Flat head syndrome is classified into two types:

  • When your baby's head is bowed to one side (plagiocephaly). This causes the head to appear asymmetrical. When viewed from above, one ear may appear to be out of place compared to the other, and the head may have a 'parallelogram' form. The brow and cheeks may protrude somewhat on the side with the flat patch.
  • Brachycephaly is a flattening and broadening of the back of the head.

As the skull develops and your baby begins to move his or her head more during activities such as rolling, sitting up, and crawling, the flat patch normally continues to fill out naturally.

Baby in crib

What Causes Flat Head Syndrome?

A baby's sleep posture is the most common cause of a flattened head. Because babies spend so much time on their backs, the head can flatten in one location. This occurs not only while sleeping, but also while they are in car seats, carriers, strollers, swings, and bouncy seats.

Flattened heads are more common in premature newborns as their skulls are softer than full-term babies. Due to medical needs, such as a stay in the newborn critical care unit, they also spend a lot of time on their backs without being moved or lifted up (NICU).

Flat head syndrome can begin before birth if the mother's pelvis or a twin puts pressure on the baby's skull. Many babies delivered from multiple births have flat areas on their heads.

Tight neck muscles make it difficult for babies to turn their heads, resulting in flat head syndrome. Torticollis (tor-ti-KOLL-iss) is the medical term for this. Because it is difficult for babies to turn their heads when lying down, they tend to keep their heads in the same posture. This can result in flattening. Torticollis can worsen once the skull has a flat region. Babies use a lot of energy turning their heads. As a result, those who have severe flattening on one side tend to stay on that side, and their necks stiffen from lack of usage.

Symptoms of Flat Head Syndrome

The flattened shape of the head is the only indication of positional plagiocephaly. Apart from this, your baby won’t experience any discomfort or other symptoms. Flat head syndrome does not impair your child's development.

How Is Flat Head Syndrome Treated?

Caregivers should always position babies to sleep on their backs to help avoid SIDS, especially if flat head syndrome is a possibility. Avoiding swings, car seats, bouncy chairs, and other gadgets is the safest way to ensure that babies may move their heads freely.

So, what can parents do if their child has flat head syndrome as a result of a sleeping or lying position? Simple techniques like altering a baby's sleep position, hugging your baby, and offering plenty of "tummy time" can all assist. Consider the following suggestions:

Try some tummy time.

Allow lots of time for your baby to lie on his or her stomach while awake during the day. 

Alter the positions in the crib. 

Consider how you place your baby in their cot. The majority of right-handed parents carry their children in their left arms and lay them down with their heads to the left. The baby must turn to the right in this position to gaze around the room. Position your baby in the crib to encourage active head turning to the non-flattened side.

Hold your baby more frequently. 

mother holding baby

Limit the amount of time your child spends lying on their back or with their head resting against a flat surface (such as in car seats, strollers, swings, bouncy seats, and play yards). For instance, if your baby has fallen asleep in a car seat, remove them from the car when you come home rather than letting your little one doze in their seat. Pick up and hold your baby frequently to relieve pressure on the head.

While your baby is sleeping, adjust their head posture. 

When your baby is sleeping on their back, switch the position of their head (from left to right, right to left). Even if your baby moves around during the night, position him or her so that the rounded side of the head is touching the mattress and the flattened side is facing up. The use of wedge cushions or other gadgets to keep your baby in one position is not recommended.

ensuring baby's head is in the correct position

Gentle stretches for your baby.

Torticollis affects the majority of babies with flat head syndrome. As a result, physical therapy and a home exercise programme are frequently included in treatment. A physical therapist can give you stretching exercises to practice with your baby. The majority of motions involve stretching the neck to the opposite side of the tilt. Over time, the neck muscles will lengthen and the neck will straighten. The exercises are straightforward, but they must be completed correctly.

Alternative measures.

A helmet can be prescribed by a doctor for flat head syndrome. The helmet is made to fit your baby's head loosely where it is flat and tightly where it is round.

A helmet will not affect the growth of your baby’s head and after a couple of years, babies who have worn helmets and those who haven’t will have developed equally. Talk to your doctor about whether a helmet could assist your little one.

When to See the Doctor

Mild plagiocephaly or brachycephaly is usually harmless, but it's best to get it checked out as soon as possible to confirm there's nothing more serious going on and to begin taking steps to keep it from worsening. Consult your doctor or health visitor if you are concerned about the shape of your baby's head, or if your baby seems to have a stiff neck or limited head movement.

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