5 Things to help Plagiocephaly (flat head syndrome) at home
Updated: Mar 30, 2019
Plagiocephaly, more easily known as flat head syndrome shows up in infants in the first few months. It is most commonly caused by spending a lot of time on their backs.
THERE ARE TWO FORMS OF FLAT HEAD SYNDROME
plagiocephaly – the head is flattened on one side, causing it to look asymmetrical; the ears may be misaligned and the head looks like a parallelogram when seen from above, and sometimes the forehead and face may bulge a little on the flat side
brachycephaly – the back of the head becomes flattened, causing the head to widen, and occasionally the forehead bulges out
These problems are quite common, affecting around 1 in 5 babies at some point.
In most cases they aren't a major cause for concern, as they don't have any effect on the brain and the head shape will often improve by itself over time. Your baby won't experience any pain or other symptoms, or any problems with their general development.
WHAT CAUSES PHAGIOCEPHALY AND BRACHYCEPHALY?
The skull consists of plates of bone that strengthen and join together as a child gets
older. A young baby's skull is still relatively soft and can change shape if there's constant pressure on a particular part of their head.
COMMON CAUSES FOR THIS TO OCCUR:
sleeping on their back – the back or side of a baby's head can become flattened as a result of always sleeping on their back, but it's important they do this to reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)
position in utero– pressure can be placed on a baby's head before it's born if things are a bit squashed in the womb or there's a lack of amniotic fluid to cushion the baby
premature birth – premature babies are more likely to develop a flattened head because their skull is softer when they're born and they may prefer to rest their head on one side at first because they're not yet able to move their head themselves
neck muscle tightness – this can prevent a baby turning their head a particular way, meaning one side of their head is placed under more pressure (more common with Torticollis)
Occasionally, a flattened head can be caused by the plates of the skull joining together too early. This is known as craniosynostosis.
WHEN SHOULD YOU SPEAK WITH A MEDICAL PROFESSIONAL?
If you are concerned about the shape of your baby's head or your baby appears to be having difficulty turning their head equally to both sides, then you may want to consult a Health Care Professional.
5 THINGS YOU CAN DO AT HOME TO HELP
Simple measures to take pressure off the flattened part of their head can help reduce the impact. Many babies heads will improve in time with crawling and sitting activities.
give your baby tummy time during the day - this is also helpful with treatment of torticollis and anklyoglossia (tongue tie)
switch up the angle at which your baby lays– this ensures there isn't constant pressure on one part of their head
change the position of toys and mobiles in their bed and play area – this will encourage your baby to turn their head on to the non-flattened side
alternate the side you hold your baby when feeding and carrying
reduce the time your baby spends lying on a firm flat surface – try using a wrap or front carrier.
If you choose to see a skilled Manual Therapist (Manual Osteopath, RMT, Physiotherapist, Chiropractor) that is trained for Craniosacral Therapy, they may give you some home exercises to help correct neck tightness and techniques for reshaping their head.
HELMETS: ARE THEY A SAFE METHOD OF TREATMENT?
There are specially designed helmets that pressure to "bulging" parts of the skull and relieve pressure from other parts, potentially allowing growth in the flatter areas.
Treatment is started when the child's skull is still soft, usually at around five or six months old, and the device is worn almost continuously (up to 23 hours a day) for several months.
If needed (a child must meet a certain criteria), they are best started around the 6 month mark when there is good neck control.
In severe cases, the combination of Craniosacral and the helmet have made significant changes in re-alignment. Often with the addition of the CST, the duration of treatment with the helmet has been reduced.
The majority of children do not require a helmet. Working with a CST trained therapist and making some lifestyle changes is usually enough to make the corrections needed. Early detection and treatment is essential.
In my practice, I have found that a combination of craniosacral therapy, home exercises for restrictions and head shaping as well as changes to the baby's home habits show significant changes to baby's head shape. Most babies only see me for a few treatments before there is a noticeable difference. If there is significant cranial changes or the age of the child is 6mo and older, I work closely with a local therapist that creates the helmets. Together we make sure the helmet is specifically designed for your child's needs. Together, we have had great success in correcting cranial alignments in severe cases.
Disclaimer - Everything shared is for informative purposes only. It is not intended for assessment, diagnosis or treatment purposes. If you feel there needs to be further investigation, please seek out a qualified health care professional for a proper assessment.