There is a condition that causes a baby's head to become misshapen or have a flat spot and is known as plagiocephaly. The most common type is situational plagiocephaly and happens when a baby's head develops a flat spot because of pressure on that area. Babies' heads are soft when they are born so are vulnerable to this condition.
When babies are born and spend time in a position that puts pressure on one part of their skull, this is when the condition typically develops and is known as positional plagiocephaly.
The condition has increased dramatically since the early 1990s because this is when parents were told that putting babies on their backs to sleep would decrease the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. This advice has saved thousands of babies' lives.
Sometimes when movement in the uterus is restricted positional plagiocephaly can develop with the baby's head but is rarer and is usually because the mother has a multiple pregnancy or it can happen with breech babies who get wedged under their mother's ribs.
There is a birth defect known as craniosynostosis and is a type of plagiocephaly. It is when the joints between the bones of the baby's skull close too early. With this condition, surgery is needed to help the brain grow properly.
With vaginal births it is common for babies to have misshapen heads because of the pressure to them when they pass through the birth canal. In most cases their heads naturally correct themselves to a normally rounded shape by six weeks. However, if there is a flat spot on your baby's head after six weeks of age then it is probably positional plagiocephaly.
Plagiocephaly is most common in babies who are premature, have weak muscle tone, have very large heads or are known as good sleepers.
Torticollis is a condition that can cause plagiocephaly. It is common in premature babies and is when they sleep with their head tipped to one side, while the chin is turned to the other and is caused by a tight or shortened muscle on one side of their neck.
If your baby develops a flat spot on their head
No one's head is completely symmetrical. In most cases slight flat spots will round themselves by the time the baby is crawling around and sitting up at six months of age but if you do notice your baby's head beginning to flatten it is advisable that you speak with your doctor straight away.
The younger the baby is the softer the skull is so treatment is best started sooner rather than later. As the baby grows the skull becomes harder and less pliable.
Treatment for positional plagiocephaly
Treatment is decided once your doctor has assessed the baby's age and the amount of the condition. If the condition is not severe and the baby is young enough then simple re-positional therapy may be administered. In more serious cases then cranial orthotic therapy may be determined and this means using a helmet to change the shape of the baby's head.
** Please read other articles for more about treatments for plagiocephaly.
By Erian Hallinan