Flat Head Syndrome: What is it and How to Avoid It?

The flat head syndrome is a common phenomenon among many babies, and this occurs due to many reasons. Let’s take a look at what flat head syndrome is, the steps you can take to prevent it, and how it is treated.

What is Flat Head Syndrome?

Plagiocephaly is the medical name for flat head syndrome. Flatness can be on the back or either on the left or right side of the head. It can be to a great extent or lesser or very mild. Many infants are born with misshapen heads due to the
position of the head in the uterus before birth.

Flat head syndrome in babies

What Causes Flat Head Syndrome?

Here are some common reasons why flat head syndrome occurs:

Sleeping on the back - For a baby to sleep on its back is considered a safe position as it avoids the chances of the child getting suffocated accidentally by turning face down onto its pillow and blocking its airways. Also, placing a baby on its side or stomach might cause it to have breathing difficulties. Making the infant lie on its back is the safest position. However, an infant’s skull bones are soft and flexible and can alter shape easily. If an infant is constantly lying on their back, then the condition of flat head can occur as well.

Sleeping on the same side - The baby sleeping on its back every day maintaining the same position, or keeping its head turned to the right of left, exerts steady pressure on the same side of the head. It is in the first sixteen
weeks of life before the infant can roll over independently that it can potentially develop a flat head. Making a baby lie with its head in the same position for a long duration is not good for the infant.

Preterm baby - Another reason for plagiocephaly is when a baby is born before term and has to spend many days in the hospital lying on his or her back. A preterm baby has softer bones compared to those born at term. Also, the use of forceps or vacuum during delivery can cause plagiocephaly because of the pressure exerted on the skull.

Muscular torticollis - Muscular torticollis is again another reason for flat head syndrome. This occurs when the baby has reduced space to maneuver in the uterus, leading it to be predisposed to one side, thus putting pressure on that side of the head.

Congenital reasons - There are also congenital reasons for the flattening of the head, but this is not a common birth defect. Babies having this condition have the fibrous spaces in the skull bones closed early in their development, thus resulting in abnormally shaped heads. Congenital plagiocephaly may also occur during an infant’s development in the womb as a result of genetic inheritance.

How to Prevent Flat Head Syndrome?

You can take precautions to prevent the flat head syndrome, some of which are listed below:

 To prevent your baby from developing a flat head, the sleeping position should be changed so that he or she does not lie in the same position for a long duration of time. This alleviates the pressure being exerted on any particular part of the skull when the baby is normally asleep on its back.

 Allowing your baby some tummy time. This means allowing him or her to sleep on the tummy or side, under supervision. This will take the pressure off the area of the head that is affected. The benefits of tummy time are that the baby’s back and head shape normally. It also allows your baby to push upwards on his or her arms, thus strengthening the arm muscles which prepare him or her for the crawling stage.

 When placed in the crib, the baby should be positioned so that it can turn its head to the side that is not flattened. If your baby moves while sleeping, change his or her position so that the flattened portion is not resting on the mattress. Using pillows or other supports to keep the baby in a fixed position should not be done.

 Holding your infant in an upright position when he or she is asleep can also be beneficial if your baby has a flat head. This should be done often to lessen the contact the flattened portion of the skull has with the mattress.

How is Flat Head Syndrome Treated?

Many babies who have flat head syndrome may have some level of torticollis. For this, the infant needs physical therapy. A physical therapist can guide you on an exercise schedule that can be done at home. This may involve stretching
exercises such as stretching the neck on the opposite side of the tilt.

The use of a helmet designed specially, where it fits loosely at the flattened portion and firmly where it is round, thus allowing the head to grow where it is flatter, can help to treat flat head syndrome. The helmet makes the head grow
round quicker than normal growth. It is good to take the advice of the doctor before deciding to opt for the helmet.

In most cases, plagiocephaly improves as the infant grows. As babies get older, they begin to change their position on their own during sleep, so their heads are not in the position constantly. Over time, the skull grows and the flattening
improves even in severe cases.

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