The problem of flat head syndrome in babies is a common occurrence. It happens due to constant pressure on one spot which results in that part of the head becoming flat. Since infants are extremely vulnerable, their skull bone is pliable and quite soft. Know the causes of flat head syndrome in babies and also understand how to prevent it.
Causes of Flat Head Syndrome in Babies
Flat head syndrome in babies is seen in two forms. There are two types of flattening which may occur in a baby namely, brachycephaly and plagiocephaly. In the former, the head becomes wider that it is deep if the baby is made to lie on the back for long periods of time while in the latter; the baby’s head becomes flat on one side due to the pressure being applied on it.
It is a known fact that around 6 months after birth the infant starts to sit and crawl and the head starts becoming round on its own. However, it is vital that if a baby is experiencing severe flattening, it is medically evaluated and corrected at the earliest to avoid odd and imbalanced appearing face.
Here are some of the major causes of flat head syndrome in babies:
- Flat Head Syndrome in Babies Caused Due to Soft and Pliable Skull Bone: Several bone plates together form the skull of a newly born infant or baby. The skull bones are not firmly connected with one another during the time of birth but as the baby starts to grow, the skull bones gradually begin to fuse. However, the first few months after birth are very crucial with the skull bone being pliable and soft. This is why the baby’s head needs to be handled very carefully. Also, the slightest of pressure can change the skull’s shape. Applying continuous pressure on a particular spot on the skull is one of the commonest causes of flat head syndrome in babies.
- Less Amniotic Fluid in the Womb: Another commonest cause of flat head syndrome in babies is insufficient amount of amniotic fluid in the mother’s womb. Less fluid offer less support, which can lead to molding of the skull while the infant is still inside it. This happens because less amounts of amniotic fluid is unable to cushion the head of the infant resulting in deformation.
- Torticollis: Torticollis is a problem related to the muscles of the neck. It prevents the infant from turning the head from one side to the other. In such a scenario, the infant’s head remains turned to one side and this causes immense pressure on it giving rise to the problem of a flat head. The condition of Torticollis is far more common in premature babies than normal ones and is a very common cause of flat head syndrome in babies.
- Multiple Fetuses: The presence of multiple fetuses in the womb is another common cause of flat head syndrome in babies. Since there is less space for each of the fetus, it can prevent the head from forming and shaping up properly thereby resulting in the problem.
- Baby’s Sleep Position: If the new born infant prefers to sleep with the head turned to one side, it can be a cause of flat head syndrome. In this case, it is important for the mother or the care-giver to ensure that every time the infant sleeps turning the head on either side, she makes the infant sleep on his back again.
- Craniosynostosis: This condition too can be one of the causes of flat head syndrome in babies. In this, the skull bones fuse earlier than normal. Being a birth defect, it can cause the head of the infant to bulge from any one of the sides disproportionately. Many a times, surgical intervention is required to correct the head of the shape in such cases.
Conditions such as premature infant, first birth, assisted and forceps delivery can increase the risk of a flat head syndrome in babies.
How to Prevent Flat Head Syndrome in Babies?
If the flat head syndrome in babies is not managed well at the right time, it can give rise to a disproportionate head and other complexities. Any such instance must immediately receive medical attention.
Know how to prevent flat head syndrome in babies.
- Changing position of the baby is the most effective way to prevent flat head syndrome in babies. If the baby is used to lying in one position all the time, prevent from doing so by changing position from time to time. This will prevent exertion of pressure on a specific part of the head or skull and allow the head to remain round and proportioned from all sides.
- When holding the baby in the arms or when feeding, it is important to alternate sides to avoid pressure on one of the head. This is an important way to prevent flat head syndrome in babies.
- Allow the baby to spend tummy time, which means letting the baby lie on the stomach for some time every day. While this helps to prevent flat head syndrome in babies, it also helps to strengthen the baby’s neck muscles. Make sure the head and neck of the baby is well supported when turning to avoid pressure on the head and is best done for babies older than 2 months.
- It is necessary to monitor if the baby is more than 6 months old and can sit with or without support. Do not let the baby remain seated in one position for long, turn to one side or rest the head on one side. Encourage the baby to turn the head, change sides and allow the baby to move or change position to prevent flat head syndrome in babies.
- The use of headbands or helmets is recommended for infants above 6 months as an effective way to prevent a flat head syndrome. Moreover, it will also aid the head to maintain a rounded shape. However, a helmet or headband should only be used only with advice and after the pediatrician has examined the shape of the baby’s head thoroughly.
- For other causes of flat head syndrome in babies, it is necessary that the baby is examined by the pediatrician and necessary treatment options are discussed early on.
- Having a healthy pregnancy and new motherhood is another important way to prevent flat head syndrome in babies. Planning your pregnancy, having a well-nourished diet and proper antenatal checkups is important. It can reduce the chances of complications in pregnancy and fetal health risks, which can also reduce the risk of flat head syndrome in babies.
Flat head syndrome in babies is not a major concern and is common amongst several new-born babies. Early intervention and correction can help solve the problem completely and allow your baby’s head to stay rounded in shape and proportionate from all sides. Also, to prevent flat head syndrome in babies, it is advisable to follow the tips that help keep the baby’s head rounded.
- American Academy of Pediatrics. (2016). Prevention and Management of Positional Skull Deformities in Infants. Pediatrics, 138(1), e20161209. doi:10.1542/peds.2016-1209
- KidsHealth. (2021). Positional Plagiocephaly (Flat Head Syndrome). https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/positional-plagiocephaly.html
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021). Birth Defects: Data & Statistics. https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/birthdefects/data.html