Parenting Tips: Preventative Methods to Avoid Flat Head Syndrome

Flat Head Syndrome, known medically as positional plagiocephaly, is a condition affecting infants and toddlers. Its diagnostic sign? A flat spot either on the side or the back of the head, often accompanied by diminished hair growth on the affected area and sometimes by facial asymmetry.

Babies’ heads are soft to facilitate passage through the birth canal, and to accommodate the incredible surge of brain growth that occurs in the first 18 months of life. When babies lie too long on their backs or with their heads abutting a hard rigid surface like a car seat, a stroller or a swing, their heads can be moulded and flattened by that contact. Some babies, too, are born with extended neck muscles — a condition medically known as torticollis – that prevents them from being able to move their own heads.

Fortunately, there are many things that you as a parent can do at home to treat and prevent Flat Head Syndrome.

Diagnosing Flat Head Syndrome

Flat Head Syndrome is one of the many things your paediatrician checks for. But as your baby’s primary caretaker, you are the person who is most vigilant about changes in his or her physical appearance, so if you think you are observing the signs of positional plagiocephaly, don’t be afraid to bring it to your paediatrician’s attention.

Look at your baby’s head from a number of different angles: from above, from the sides and from the face. In addition to flattening, you may observe some mild, compensatory bulging in the area of the forehead on the affected side and perhaps some auricular asymmetry.

If your baby’s plagiocephaly is severe, your paediatrician may order x-rays to rule out craniosynostosis, or premature fusion of the cranial sutures, a very rare but far more serious condition that requires surgical intervention.

Treating Flat Head Syndrome

Treating plagiocephaly in the home is very easy and has a very high success rate. All it generally entails is repositioning the infant frequently enough so that he or she does not spend long amounts of time with the head in the same position.

In order to decrease the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, the American Academy of Paediatrics (AAP) has recommended that babies should not be allowed to sleep on their stomachs. However, this does not mean that babies can’t enjoy ‘tummy time’ so long as you’re close at hand looking out for any symptoms of distress. You can also use wedge pillows to position your baby on his or her side at night and during naptime.

If your baby shows a preference for turning his or her head to the affected side, try positioning a colourful mobile or toy on the opposite side that will actively engage your baby’s interest to encourage active head turning.

Physiotherapy or osteopathy is useful in resolving a tight neck muscle on one side, torticollis. If you are concerned, seek a referral from your GP or paediatrician or find a private paediatric osteopath or physiotherapist who can help. Simple, gradually progressive stretches and exercises are easy to do at home and form part of the overall treatment.

If your child has severe plagiocephaly and you do not notice any improvement, a custom foam-moulded helmet or headband device that will redirect growth allowing the head shape to grow to a natural had shape using natural growth and gentle remodelling as the head grows. These devices are under prescribed in the UK and many infants are left untreated resulting in a permanent deformity.

Technology in Motion has been providing treatment for flat head syndrome (plagiocephaly and/or brachycephaly) since 2003; conditions which involve head deformation in infants.