If your baby appears to have a flat head, don't panic. Here's what to look for and what to do next
Your new baby is perfectly healthy, but you notice her head looks flat on one side. This is called flat head syndrome (positional plagiocephaly) and isn’t as scary as it sounds and is very common. Some estimates suggest that as many as half of all babies get it to some degree.
Flat head syndrome is a flattening of the head caused by external pressure. Flattening can start in the womb or during birth, but most commonly occurs after your baby’s born.
When Jake was 8 weeks old, his mum Erica, 29, had a shock as she flicked through photos of him taken at 2 days old. “I realised his head was a very different shape. The back was now very flat, yet when he was born it had been round.”
Erica’s doctor advised her to encourage Jake to alternate between lying on his right side and his left, rather than constantly on his back, so pressure was applied equally to both sides of his head. “I still put him down on his back, but helped to turn his head to the side,” Erica explains. “Within 3 months, the flatness was disappearing and now, at 11 months, he has a lovely shaped head!”
Your baby is born with soft bones in her skull, which are easily moulded in her early weeks. The bone tissue is so soft, that simply spending the majority of time in one position can cause your baby’s head to flatten.
It’s thought more babies have flattened heads as today’s mums follow guidelines to put their babies to sleep on their backs to minimise the risk of cot death (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome). Firmer mattresses and more time spent in car seats are also thought to contribute.
It can help to take a photo of your baby’s head from above, so you can compare it over time and reassure yourself that it is improving.
Dr Geoff Lawson, consultant paediatrician at Sunderland Royal Hospital
“Flat head syndrome will not affect the development of your child whatsoever,” says Dr Geoff Lawson, consultant paediatrician at Sunderland Royal Hospital.
“Your baby’s brain will continue to grow naturally and, in fact, will help correct the shape of your baby’s head as it grows. Most parents whose babies have a flattened head can see a definite improvement by the child’s first birthday, but certainly by the time she goes to school it has almost always completely corrected itself,” Dr Lawson adds.
However, if you think your baby might be affected, see your doctor to eliminate the possibility of more serious causes. “Your GP can measure your baby’s head to make sure that she is developing properly,” explains Dr Lawson.
“I have to be honest, Arnie came into this world as a rather odd-looking baby, all scrunched up. My theory is he was a bit squashed in the womb by his active twin brother!
“But I was horrified at 6 weeks when I brushed his hair back to see the left side of his head was almost completely flat. It was so severe that at 8 weeks, he had a head x-ray and ultrasound to assess his bones and brain. Luckily all was well.
“We relentlessly encouraged him to sleep on his back or on his right side – popping in every half hour in case he’d slipped back to the left (usually he had) – and when he was awake positioning him so he had to turn his head to see what was going on, so he wasn’t ‘locked’ in the left position. The results were amazing and happened incredibly fast. In a month he’d lost his ‘odd’ look and now has a perfectly symmetrical head.”
Jane, 35, mum to Arnie and Sam, 3
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