What you should know about Baby Flat Head Syndrome
The Back to Sleep campaign began in the 1990s, and it has been very successful in reducing the number of deaths from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Unfortunately there has been an unintended consequence of babies now sleeping primarily on their backs. In recent years, there has been a dramatic increase in Baby Flat Head Syndrome, affecting between one third and half of all babies today.
Because this condition used to be very rare, it is still not very well known and many parents do not understand it. However, it is something you need to know about as a new parent, because it is easily prevented and treated when a baby is still very young.
What is baby flat head syndrome?
The term Baby flat head syndrome is often used to describe a group of conditions that cause an infant’s head to flatten. Deformational or positional plagiocephaly and brachycephaly are by far the most common conditions causing the flattening.
Repeated external pressure placed on the same area of the baby’s head eventually causes the baby’s soft skull to become misshapen. Some babies, such as premature infants and multiple births, seem to be more prone to these conditions.
What is the difference between plagiocephaly and brachycephaly?
In plagiocephaly, the flattening is on one side of the back of the head, while brachycephaly is flattening across the entire back of the head.
What should you do if your baby is developing a flat spot?
The most important thing to do is to consult your child’s doctor if you see any signs of head flattening. You must rule out more serious conditions such as craniosynostosis, and understand the real cause of any flat spots. Some of these conditions can only be treated with surgery, so it’s really important to know what you are dealing with. There can also be related conditions like torticollis (tightening of the neck muscles) that are involved and need to be treated as well.
How do you treat baby flat head syndrome?
When the baby is still very young, ideally less than 3 or 4 months old, plagiocephaly and brachycepahly are primarily treated using repositioning techniques to keep the pressure off the baby’s flat spot, and also by giving the baby a lot of tummy time. Tummy time is needed to properly develop a baby’s muscles. It is really important for all babies, but particularly if flat head syndrome is an issue.
The key is to keep the baby off the flat spot as much as possible, and there are some pillows and positioning products that you can get to help with this task. Most should only be used when your baby is supervised.
Once the baby is a little older, if these techniques are not effective and the condition is severe enough (this needs to be determined through taking proper measurements of your baby’s head), then a baby helmet, or cranial remodeling helmet, is used. This treatment is also most effective when started at a very young age, so do not delay seeking help if you notice your baby’s head flattening.
Sarah Davidson is a working mother of one, and writes about this issue on her Baby Flat Head Syndrome blog at http://www.babyflathead.org/.