Flat head or plagiocephaly in medical terms, often causes parents a lot of anxiety. It is a condition in which one side is flatter than the other side. A baby’s skull can be ‘moulded’ into different shape- something that is very useful when preparing to come through the birth canal! However, a baby’s head can also be moulded by a flat surface and this can cause the face to look unequal. Some babies develop a preference to looking one way rather than both which can make the problem worse.
What causes it?
· Tight neck muscles
· Being premature
· Certain sleep positions
How can you help?
· Encourage different positions of the head when asleep, (always placing your little one on their back though) so that they see different views when they wake.
· When awake, try and give your little one tummy time every day. This takes the pressure off the back of the head and is great for development.
· Place interesting toys, books, mirror etc on the opposite side to encourage your little one to spend longer looking towards the less favoured side
· Try to limit time in a car seat to just for journeys and not for extended naps. A car seat limits free movement of the head and can make moulding worse if used for prolonged periods.
· Carry your baby in a sling (see our sling blog for more tips about this)
The good news is that the vast majority of cases get better with simple measures as described and as a baby grows and becomes more mobile, the pressure on the head becomes less important. If you are concerned about your baby’s head shape you can visit your GP. In some cases, a physiotherapist can see and advise. Some places may offer helmets to help to remould the head back to a normal shape but this is not routine practice. It is unclear whether helmets are of benefit or not and they are quite an undertaking as they need to be worn for many months and for most of the hours in the day. Therefore helmets are usually reserved for the most severe cases and they are thought to be helpful in this group.
Simple ‘flat head’ does not have any effect on the brain or development. Some flattening is a normal variant and as your baby’s hair covers the head it will become less obvious. Try not to worry and if you are, go and have a chat to your GP about it…