In the early chapters of life, an invisible protagonist steps onto the stage. Its name is plagiocephaly, an imposing term that simply means 'flat head syndrome.' An uninvited guest into the delicate infancy, it is a common condition that quietly influences the lives of many babies. Born out of constant pressure applied to a particular part of the child's head, often the back, it quietly molds the innocent baby's head into a flat, atypical shape. The resulting uneven cranial shape can subtly shift the symmetrical harmony of the baby’s facial features, presenting a challenge not only aesthetically but potentially to the child's healthy development as well.
Yet, this shadowy character does not reign unopposed. In the world of parenting and pediatrics, knowledge equips us with a powerful defense, and there is much to learn about plagiocephaly. Rest assured, there is an abundance of strategies for prevention and a variety of effective treatments that promise to restore the natural contour of your baby’s head. Today, we shall illuminate this path of knowledge, arming you with the understanding necessary to keep flat head syndrome at bay. So journey with us as we navigate the terrain of plagiocephaly prevention and treatment.
With that in mind, keep reading to learn what you need to know to prevent flat heads.
What is Plagiocephaly?
Plagiocephaly is a condition that is caused by pressure on a baby’s skull. The most notable symptom of plagiocephaly is the flattening of the head on the back or on one side of the head, causing asymmetry of facial features and the uneven shape of the head. When the case is particularly severe, it can cause the baby to lose the ability to turn their head to one side and also cause their head to become misshapen.
There are a few causes of flat head syndrome but the most common causes are sleeping on the same side, extended time in car rides, and crowding in the womb due to multiple births. When a baby spends too much time sleeping in one position, usually on their back, causing a flattening in one spot of the head.
Although this usually happens due to sleeping position, any situation where a baby is in one position for an extended period of time can cause flat head syndrome. If your baby will be in a car seat, stroller, carrier, or any other place where your baby can lie for an extended period of time, make sure to take breaks often to pick the baby up and move around to prevent flat head from occurring.
Flat head syndrome can also occur early in the womb if the baby’s head has pressure due to another baby in the womb or, in some cases, the mother’s pelvis. Some babies, usually those babies from multiple births, can be born with flat head syndrome.
Torticollis, a condition that makes it hard or impossible to turn your head due to a stiff neck, can cause flat head syndrome. This condition can make it hard for babies to turn their heads so they develop a habit of putting their heads in the same position every time they sleep since it's the only comfortable position for them.
How Do I Prevent Flat Head Syndrome?
Although babies should always be placed on their backs to sleep, there are ways to prevent flat head syndrome. Here are some of the things you should be doing to prevent flat head in your baby.
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Gently Change Your Baby’s Head Position While They Sleep
Changing the position of your baby’s head while they sleep can help prevent flat head syndrome from developing. Gently alternate the way that your baby’s head lays while they sleep.
You can use a rolled up towel or a soft pillow to keep one side of their head propped up. Do not use wedge pillows to pin your baby to one position as this can be incredibly uncomfortable for them. Aim to change your baby’s head position every three hours.
Pick Up Your Baby More Often
Try to take advantage of every opportunity to pick your baby up. Not only does it feel great to bond with your baby by holding them, but it takes the pressure off their head from lying down. Make sure you limit the time that your baby spends laying down with their head against a flat surface like in car seats and strollers.
While it may be tempting to leave your baby sleeping in their car seat after a long drive by carrying the entire seat inside so they stay asleep, picking them up and carrying them in will take pressure off of their head and also give you a chance to lay the baby down in a different position.
Practice Tummy Time
Every baby should be having tummy time but babies that have or are prone to flat head syndrome will find tummy time to be extra beneficial. Not only will tummy time get their heads off surfaces that put pressure on them, but it also helps babies develop the muscles in their neck and back.
Tummy time involves putting babies on their tummies on a soft and safe surface. Babies should then be encouraged to move and look around by talking or singing to them. Try to catch their attention and get them to move their head and eyes by following you.
As babies get better with tummy time, their back and neck muscles will get stronger and increase their ability to move from side to side. This will reduce the pressure on their heads and prevent flat head syndrome by allowing them to comfortably lay down on either side.
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Alternate Sleeping Positions in the Crib
Alternating the sleeping position that the baby is placed in the crib can help prevent flat head syndrome. Have your infant sleep in one position one night and the next, turn them around and have them sleep in the opposite position. Babies will be drawn to certain interesting areas in the room like the doorway and windows so make sure that you position them to actively encourage them to turn their heads.