Flat head syndrome (otherwise known as positional plagiocephaly) is a condition that makes the side or back of a baby’s head look flat. This is caused when a baby spends too much time putting pressure on these areas e.g. sleeping. When your baby was born, their skull consisted of plates. These plates are soft and malleable, eventually fusing together to become hard bone. Flat head syndrome occurs when too much pressure is applied to these plates, misshaping the baby’s head.
Recent years has seen an increase in flat head syndrome cases and this is largely due to the Back to sleep health education campaign of 1991, which advised parents to place babies on their back or side to sleep. This was to tackle the problem of sudden infant death syndrome (otherwise know as cot death). Since the original campaign, cot deaths have dropped over 70% while the number of flat head syndrome cases has risen by the same amount.
Research suggests that the condition is not a life-threatening problem but is more of a cosmetic one; however, this can still be quite distressing for a parent, especially if they are unaware of what it is and how simple it can be to fix.
It can be a disconcerting time if your baby has developed flat head syndrome, but there are ways to correct the condition, often through simple methods. If you are expecting a baby and are worried about flat head syndrome, then there are also ways to prevent it. Below we explain various options to avoid flat head syndrome, and give some tips on what to do if your baby has developed a misshapen head.
How to prevent Flat Head Syndrome
When you lay your baby to sleep or put him in his car seat, they rest on undeveloped parts of their skull. This constant pressure is the main reason for flat head syndrome.
When you are out with your baby and they have fallen asleep in their buggy, readjust their head position from time to time so they do not keep resting on the same area.
In your baby’s first few weeks, they will sleep for hours and hours. Unfortunately, laying your baby on their back to sleep in a cot can cause flat head syndrome, because they are applying pressure to their soft skulls. You could counter this by placing a towel or soft pillow underneath their head to reduce the amount of pressure.
Placing toys in your baby’s cot is not only a good way to keep your baby entertained but it also encourages them to move their head. This has two benefits; firstly, it will strengthen your baby’s neck muscles. Secondly, your baby will not be resting on sensitive cranial areas all the time.
When your baby has fallen asleep, you could readjust them frequently so that they do not lie on the flattened side of their head. If you do this regularly, then your baby’s chance of developing flat head syndrome will significantly decrease. You could also try putting your baby in a different area of the cot every night, which will prompt them to look around in awe at their new location.
You could also try moving the light source in your baby’s room, as babies tend to follow light sources, again promoting head movement.
Preventing Flat Head Syndrome with Toys
There are products you can buy that will help avoid flat head syndrome. Tummy time is a good way for your baby to stop resting on sensitive skull areas. You can make tummy time fun and stimulating for your baby by purchasing a play mat or activity gym.
Cot time does not just have to be about sleep. Putting some brightly coloured toys in with your baby like a rattle or textured animal will promote head movement; baby mobiles are also good for this, because your baby will follow the lights and music of the mobile.
Buying your baby a toy bar for their car seat is an excellent choice to promote head movement in a cramped area.
Correcting Flat Head Syndrome
If your baby has developed a flat head, then there are products available to aid correction. One of the best and cheapest options is a special moulded mattress, which will accommodate and support the curvature of your baby’s soft skull. These mattresses often mimic the crook of a mother’s arm, which will comfort and secure your baby as they go to sleep.
Watch this short film, and learn how the Tomy Sleepcurve mattress works to prevent and cure flat head syndrome.
Specially shaped pillows are also available to help prevent and correct flat head syndrome. These foam pillows adapt to your baby’s skull shape, relieving the cranial pressure that causes a flattened head.
Lastly, there are helmets available to cure and correct flat head syndrome. Whether these work or not, is subject to intense debate. The large majority of opinion suggests that they do indeed work, but they are the more expensive option.
Flat head syndrome is a worrying condition for any parent to deal with. Leading paediatricians suggest that the condition eventually clears up after several years, so if your baby has developed a flat head, it will eventually be cured.
If you are still worried about flat head syndrome, or require more information, you should contact your local doctor or paediatrician.