Squeezed through the birth canal, many babies are born with pointy, cone-shaped heads. Others, delivered by caesarian section, start off life with round heads. Few babies begin with a flat head. But as parents put babies on their backs to sleep in accordance with Sudden Infant Death Syndrome prevention guidelines, babies are developing flat heads.
Called positional plagiocephaly, a young infant’s head flattens when prolonged pressure is placed on one spot. Tricks to prevent positional plagiocephaly all encourage equal pressure over the entire head. Because babies’ heads are malleable, parents can prevent and treat the flatness. In fact, the flat shape begins to correct itself as babies spend less time lying down and more time sitting and crawling. Additionally, increased hair growth hides some of the flatness.
To prevent positional plagiocephaly, place your baby prone (belly down) frequently WHILE AWAKE, starting in the newborn period. This tummy time decreases pressure on the back of the head. Some babies are not fond of tummy time and will cry until they are back on their backs. For those kids, check out our post on making tummy time more tolerable for your baby.
Some babies wear helmets to correct their abnormal head flattening. Neurosurgeons, who are head and brain specialists, and plastic surgeons prescribe these helmets for babies who have extreme flattening. Fortunately, the majority of babies with positional plagiocephaly do not need to wear helmets.
So, avoid head flatness by rotating your baby’s position frequently (think rotisserie chicken!) and provide plenty of “tummy time” when awake. Start when the baby first comes home.
If you are worried about your baby’s head shape, just head on over to your baby’s pediatrician and bring up your concern. It is unlikely that your concern will “fall flat.”
Julie Kardos, MD and Naline Lai, MD
©2012, rev. 2016 Two Peds in a Pod®