Does your baby have ‘flat head syndrome’?
Plagiocephaly, also known as ‘Flat Head Syndrome’, is a disorder that affects the skull, making the back or side of baby’s head appear flattened.
While it sounds quite alarming, rest assured it is very common and, although is causes a flattened appearance to the head or face, it has no known medical repercussions, explains eumom physiotherapy expert Aoibhin McGreal
Reports show that up to 50 per cent of babies may develop positional plagiocephaly in the first few months of life, even though it is a condition that can be easily prevented.
What are the signs of plagiocephaly?
If your baby has plagiocephaly you may notice one or more of the following:
- A persisitent flat spot on the back of the head – either across the back or on one side
- A bald patch on the head corresponding to the area that baby predominantly lies on
- Flattening of the opposite side of the forehead
- Uneven positioning of the ears
- One eye may appear lower and/or smaller than the other
- An increased head height toward the back of the head
- A tendency to turn the head to one side
What causes plagiocephaly?
Babies are born with plates of bone making up the skull. This means the skull is quite flexible, and this flexibility may lead to moulding of the head if it is kept in the same position over a prolonged time.
Babies should always be placed to sleep on their backs to minimize the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Some babies will always turn their head to the same side when you lie them down, causing a flattening of the part of the head which is against the mattress. Some babies spend a lot of time in car seats and baby chairs which can also cause increased pressure on part of the head, leading to plagiocephaly.
How can you prevent plagiocephaly?
The following are ways you can help reduce the risks of plagiocephaly.
- Check baby’s sleeping position: Always alternate the position of baby’s head when placing them down on their back. If the head is turned to the right for one sleep, lie baby down with the head turned to the left for the next sleep. If your baby always turns towards the light or the door you could alternate their position in the cot so that the feet and head switch ends, and baby then has to turn his head the other way to look towards the stimulating objects.
- Make time for tummy time: The more time babies spend on their tummies, the better the chance of stopping the plagiocephaly getting worse. I recommend 3-5 minutes of tummy time at least three times a day. Do this from birth, across your lap to start with, and they will get used to tummy time from the beginning. Remember, babies should never sleep on their tummies and should not be left alone during tummy time.
- Watch how you hold your baby: Alternate the side you hold your baby. If you are bottle feeding, try to swap sides for each feed – in other words, hold baby in your right arm for one feed, then in your left arm for the next.
- Minimize the time spent in car seats, baby bouncers and recliners: A good guide is to restrict car seat use to one hour at a time, with breaks if necessary when your journey time exceeds this. Babies under eight weeks should always lie flat on their backs to sleep until they have sufficient head control for the semi-upright positions of bouncers or recliners.
How is plagiocephaly treated?
If your baby develops plagiocephaly, addressing it early is key to reducing any long-term effects. A chartered physiotherapist who treats this condition will carry out an assessment and based on that will provide treatment and advice to correct the problem.
If your baby has plagiocephaly, you should always put them down to sleep with the head turned to the side that is not flattened and when they are awake, always encourage them to look in the opposite direction to the flat side, until correction has been achieved. Some babies will require neck exercises and treatment to allow the head to turn fully to the opposite side.
Does your baby have plagiocephaly? Share your tips and advice with other moms by leaving a comment below.