If you spend a great deal of time in the presence of babies, you have certainly noticed that it is becoming fairly common to see an infant with a flat spot on the back or side of the head. This phenomenon, known as positional plagiocephaly, or more commonly as flat head syndrome, is caused when babies spend a considerable amount of time with their head resting in the same position, such as when traveling in a car safety seat or stroller. Many modern travel systems allow parents to transfer their baby’s car seat into the stroller base without removing the child, increasing the time that babies remain in the same position. Additionally, in an effort to reduce the instances of cot death, parents and caregivers regularly place babies to sleep flat on their backs. Although this technique definitively saves lives, it can contribute to flat head syndrome.
Babies are born with soft, pliable skulls, so when they rest in the same position on a regular basis, their head can develop a flat spot where it presses against the car seat or mattress. Infants born prematurely or those with torticollis, a condition that causes a baby’s head and neck to tilt to one side, are at increased risk, but all babies can be affected. In most cases, a baby’s head will return to a more natural, rounded shape once the child begins crawling and standing, but some parents prefer to purchase a helmet to help reshape their baby’s head. Most effective when a baby is between the ages of 4-12 months, these helmets are worn almost continuously for a number of months in order to help remold the baby’s head. Their use is a bit controversial, however, since many doctors feel that they are unnecessary.
There are some recommendations to help babies retain a rounded shape to their heads while they are developing. Although it is vital to continue placing infants on their backs to sleep, it is safe to adopt a “tummy to play” habit during the baby’s supervised waking hours. Another idea is to place the baby to sleep with his head at alternating sides of his cot, encouraging him to tilt his head in various directions to view the room or buy using a specialy shaped pillow or mattress. By finding ways for the baby to take the pressure off the flattened area, the head will grow in a uniform manner. As babies continue to grow and develop, their increased mobility and physical capabilities will ensure that their heads do not regress to the earlier flattened shape.
Flat head syndrome is a purely cosmetic issue; it in no way impacts the child’s brain or intellectual development. Nonetheless, parents worldwide are expressing their concern and seeking the advice of specialists. Craniofacial physicians have noticed a dramatic increase in inquiries from worried parents over the past few years. While most cases of flat head syndrome correct themselves, if you are concerned, be sure to consult with your child’s pediatrician.