Preventing and Treating Baby Flat Head

SSP6:11:18Preventing and Treating Baby Flat Head 

Every new parent worries about SIDS, and with good reason – it’s the number one cause of death to infants younger than 12 months of age. If you’ve done any kind of research on keeping your baby safe while sleeping, you know that you should place your baby on his back every time he sleeps… and that can cause a flat spot to form on his head. Don’t worry – baby flat head is not typically a long-term problem and can be avoided using a few techniques.

How do babies get a flat head?

When babies are born, the skull bones have not yet fused together. This enables a baby’s head to compress through the birth canal and expand to allow for rapid brain growth. These bones usually do not fully fuse until about 4 years of age. Babies typically form a flat spot on the head from spending so much time lying on their backs. This is termed positional plagiocephaly. However, some other causes include:

  • Premature birth – Babies born prematurely have softer skulls than full term newborns. Often, preemies are fragile and spend a significant amount of time lying in one position in the NICU.
  • Being a multiple – Twins, triplets, quadruplets, etc. often get flat spots while in the womb due to pressure from mother’s pelvis or a sibling.
  • Torticollis Babies with torticollis have a stiff neck that makes it uncomfortable to lay a certain way. In fact, 85% of babies with confirmed torticollis also develop some sort of positional flat spot on the skull.
  • Not having enough tummy time – While it’s true that babies should not ever sleep on their stomachs (unless directed to do so by his doctor or pediatrician), having daily supervised tummy time during waking hours can help to avoid baby flat head.
  • Baby’s preferenceSome babies just seem to prefer lying on one side of the head more than the other and will lie on that one side every time.

How is baby flat head fixed?

It should come as some relief to know that positional plagiocephaly is a purely cosmetic condition. Having a flat spot on the skull does not change how your baby’s brain will develop in any way. Baby flat head is prevented and treated by:

  • Placing baby on alternate sides of the crib – If your baby lies on the same side of the crib each time he sleeps, he will likely favor the side where he hears your voice. By positioning him on opposite ends of the crib, he should use both sides of his head.
  • Have lots of play time Your baby will develop stronger neck and upper back muscles each time you implement tummy time. This can help decrease the likelihood of baby flat head.
  • Reducing the length of time your baby spends on his back – You can help avoid baby flat head by holding your baby when he’s not sleeping. Switch arms regularly.
  • Moving his head while he sleeps If your baby favors one side when he sleeps, you can gently move his head from side to side so the flattened side is facing up. According to the AAP, you should not use pillows or wedges to keep your baby in one position while sleeping.
  • Stretching and positioning exercises – If you notice baby flat head early, consult baby’s pediatrician. He or she will determine the severity and may teach you some stretching exercises that can help lengthen the muscles in your baby’s neck.

Baby helmets

For severe cases of baby flat head or torticollis, a physician may recommend a baby helmet custom-designed to put pressure on the skull to help round it out. They are most often used on babies who are 4 to 12 months of age when the skull is easier to manipulate.

If you notice that your baby’s head is not symmetrical or appears to have a flattened spot, you should never attempt to correct the problem alone. Contact baby’s doctor or pediatrician for guidance on treating baby flat head. Even in severe cases, by the time your child has grown old enough to enter school, any flattened areas will very likely no longer be noticeable.

What helped your child with positional plagiocephaly? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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