How to Avoid Flat Head Syndrome

We’ve all seen new born babies with the ‘cone head’, when a baby sits in the birth canal for a while the head develops a cone shape, this is different to Flat Head Syndrome. The cone head is all part of making their way out into the world and is completely normal. The bones inside a baby’s head are quite soft and are designed this way to accommodate the journey down the birth canal. Babies born by c-section usually have perfectly shaped heads because they have don’t travel down the birth canal.

The cone head eventually disappears. But some babies go on to develop a flat spot on the back of their heads. This is known as positional plagiocephaly, or Flat Head Syndrome. This flat spot isn’t really considered an issue, but it’s not like the cone head in that it’s unlikely to go away on its own.

Some babies are born with reduced neck movement, which means they are more likely to turn their head to one side (and not the other). In these cases they are more likely to develop the flat spot on the side that they favour. This reduced neck movement is known as torticollis.

Along with this, babies spend a lot of time lying on their backs on firm, flat surfaces, so flat spots can easily develop. This has increased since the SIDs recommendation of putting your baby to sleep on their back. It is important to continue following this recommendation, regardless of flat spots.

How To Avoid Flat Head Syndrome

  • A parent can reposition their baby’s head while they sleep, but there is no guarantee that this will help, and you will risk waking your baby, and it is tiring for the parent. If your baby spends time in his or her cot before sleeping, vary the position you place your baby in, to encourage turning of the head in different ways. Hang a mobile above the cot, put brightly coloured pictures where they can be seen and even move the cot itself occasionally to change the view.
  • Reducing the time on their back while they are awake will help. Tummy time is important for development so increasing this will not harm them.
  • Wearing your baby in a baby carrier can help. The more time your baby spends in an upright position in a supportive comfortable baby carrier, the stronger their head and neck control becomes. This allows baby to strengthen their core. Wear your baby and get multi-tasking as you perform tasks like vacuuming, grocery shopping, hanging out the laundry or doing the dishes.

Flat spots are a cosmetic issue and won’t affect your baby’s development or the growth of their brain. However, in some cases the flat area may be severe and can affect the symmetry of the face. In these cases, medical intervention is possible to help correct the head shape. Doctors can provide a specially moulded helmet that applies gentle but consistent pressure, which helps reshape the head. Intervention needs to take place between four months and 18 months.  If you are not overly concerned or the flat spot is not severe, you can rest assured that eventually their hair will grow over this patch and cover it.

Contact your GP or your Maternal Health Nurse if you are concerned with your baby.

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