Plagiocephaly or "Flat Head Syndrome" is a disorder that affects the skull, making the back or side of baby's head appear flattened. The term plagiocephaly may sound alarming but rest assured it is very common and although is causes a flattened appearance to the head or face, it has no known medical repercussions. Up to 50% of babies may develop positional plagiocephaly in the first few months of life, even though it is a condition that can be easily prevented.
What are the signs of Plagiocephaly?
If your baby has plagiocephaly you may notice one or more of the following:
A persisitent flat spot on the back of the head- either across the back or on one side.
A bald patch on the head corresponding to the area that baby predominantly lies on
Flattening of the opposite side of the forehead.Uneven positioning of the ears.
One eye may appear lower and/or smaller than the other.
An increased head height toward the back of the head.
A tendency to turn the head to one side.
What causes Plagiocephaly?
Babies are born with plates of bone making up the skull. This means the skull is quite flexible and this flexibility may lead to moulding of the head if it is kept the same position over a prolonged time. Babies should ALWAYS be placed to sleep on their backs to minimize the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Some babies will always turn their head to the same side when you lie them down causing a flattening of the part of the head which is against the matress. Some babies spend a lot of time in car seats and baby chairs which can also cause increased pressure on part of the head, leading to plagiocephaly.
How to prevent plagiocephaly?
Sleeping Position: Always alternate the position of baby's head when placing them down on their back. If the head is turned to the right for one sleep, lie baby down with the head turned to the left for the next sleep. If your baby always turns towards the light or the door you could alternate their position in the cot so that the feet and head switch ends and baby then has to turn the head the other way to look towards the stimulating objects
Tummy Time: The more time babies spend on their tummies, the better the chance of stopping the plagiocephaly getting worse. I reccomend 3 to 5 minutes of tummy time 3 times a day or more. Do this from birth across your lap to start with and they will get used to tummy time from the beginning. Remember, babies should never sleep on their tummies and should always be attended when on their tummies.
Holding your baby: Alternate the side you hold your baby. If you are bottle feeding, try to swap sides for each feed (ie hold them in your right arm for one feed ,the next hold them in your left arm)
Car Seats, baby bouncers and recliners: Minimize time spent in car seats and bouncers. A good guide is to restrict car seat use to one hour at a time with breaks if necessary when journey time exceeds this. Babies under 8 weeks should always lie flat on their backs to sleep until they have sufficient head control for the semi upright positions of bouncers or recliners.
Treatment of Plagiocephaly
If your baby develops plagiocephaly, addressing it early is key to reducing longterm effects. Aoibhin will carry out an assessment and based on that will provide treatment and advice to correct the problem.
If your baby has plagiocephaly, you should always put them down to sleep with the head turned to the side that is not flattened and when they are awake, always encourage them to look in the opposite direction to the flat side, until correction has been achieved. Some babies will require neck exercises and treatment to allow the head to turn fully to the opposite side
Aoibhin McGreal eumom's physiotherapy expert offers specialised treatment for babies with plagiocephaly in addition to providing parents with practical advice and simple techniques they can use at home. To book an appointment phone 087 9327912