As new parents, we worry about a lot of things. It seems that for some reason, many new parents become obsessively worried about preventing flat head in infants.
From day one, I remember repeatedly checking my baby’s head to make sure everything looked okay. I constantly held my baby and tried to add in as much tummy time as possible throughout our day. All because I was determined to find ways to avoid flat head syndrome.
But even with these precautions, one day I looked down at my baby’s head and realized that the right side of his head definitely looked flatter than the left side.
Today I’d like to share a little information with you about plagiocephaly, or infant flat head syndrome. Keep reading to learn all about:
What is baby flat head syndrome?
What causes a flat head on
How to prevent infant flat head?
Should you be worried about infant flat head syndrome?
How to treat flat head in babies?
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First things first. What causes baby flat head syndrome?
Infants are born with super soft heads that are very easily molded and re-shaped. There’s a great reason for this! When your baby is born, her head is usually the biggest part of her body. And it has to pass through a very narrow opening.
Luckily for us mamas, our babies’ skull bones haven’t fused together yet. During delivery, your baby’s head easily readjusts to fit through the birth canal and make birth a little easier.
Although their moldable heads are a perk during childbirth, it also means that we need to be proactive about looking for ways to prevent infant flat head syndrome. Because any prolonged pressure on one area of the skull can cause flat spots on your baby’s head.
The three most common risk factors that cause newborn flat head are:
Risk Factor #1 – Sleep Position
In 1994, the “Back to Sleep” Campaign encouraged parents to always put their infants to bed on their backs in order to reduce SIDS-related deaths. While the SIDS-related deaths decreased by about 50%, we started to see exponential growth in babies with
This is because newborns typically spend 16-17 hours a day sleeping. All of this time on their back puts tons of pressure on their impressionable little heads and increases their risk of forming a flat spot.
Pro-Tip: Many babies turn their heads a little while they sleep. This can cause positional plagiocephaly (a flat spot on the side of their head). Others will sleep looking straight up or snuggled in a car seat/swing/etc. and are at risk for brachycephaly (a flat spot on the back of their head).
Risk Factor #2 – Time in Swings, Bouncers, Car Seats, Etc.
Because there are so many useful baby items out there, babies are spending more and more time in swings, bouncers, car seats, etc.
Of course, it is necessary that your baby rides in a car seat every time you go for a car ride. We have the Doona car seat/stroller, which is super handy to pop out of the car, unfold the wheels into the stroller mode, and then roll it right into our house. When we’re cooking and can’t hold our baby, we’ll often put him in the Doona to sit and nap or watch us cook.
Likewise, your baby might love spending time in her bouncer watching you or always calm down when she’s in the swing. And all of these options are great.
But remember that this time adds up. Your baby might only spend an hour in each item every day. But once you add it all up, it results in even more time with pressure on your baby’s head. This increases the risk of flat head in babies. After all, every minute that your baby spends in these devices is added to the ~17 hours she already spends sleeping on her back.
Risk Factor #3 – Premature Birth
The third risk factor for baby flat head syndrome is a premature birth. The earlier your baby is born, the softer her head is. This means that it’s even easier to re-shape her head and cause a flat spot.
Additionally, premature babies are much more likely to spend more of their time lying down because of medical interventions. Because they often can’t be picked up and held as often as full-term babies, they increase their risk of flat head syndrome.
Want to know how to prevent infant flat head?
Tip #1 – Encourage as much tummy time as possible.
As soon as your baby comes home from the hospital, you should start doing tummy time every day. This will help your baby begin to develop his head and neck muscles. But it also gives his head a break and time with no pressure on his head.
Start with short segments. A few minutes between every nap is perfect! As your baby gets older and stronger, keep adding more and more tummy time to her day. Ideally, your baby will spend 2+ hours on her stomach each day by the time she is a couple months old.
*Remember to always supervise your newborn while he is doing tummy time! Because his neck is so weak, he can get stuck face down and be unable to lift his head up to breathe.
Pro-Tip: Some babies really don’t enjoy tummy time. Check out this article for progressive steps to help your baby start loving tummy time so you can reduce the risk of infant flat head.
Tip #2 – Hold your baby as much as possible.
This is my favorite tip ever. I loved holding my baby and he insisted that we hold him non-stop for the entire fourth trimester.
This helps to prevent flat head in infants because you move your baby into a different position that doesn’t place pressure on her head.
Switch it up as many ways as you can. Hold your baby up against your shoulders, laying across your lap, or snuggled against your chest. Baby’s also love being held in baby carriers! My baby usually took a couple of his naps each day while wrapped up in our favorite Boba carrier. I loved that this meant less time sleeping on his back, more cuddling for us, and reduced risk of infant flat head syndrome.
As if I didn’t have enough things to feel guilty about as a new mom (Check out the guest post I did about things new moms feel guilty about!), sometimes people tried to make me feel guilty for cuddling my baby “too much.” I always reminded how important it was for us to bond. Then I informed them that holding my baby was one of the easiest (and most fun!) ways to prevent newborn flat head syndrome.
Pro-Tip: It can actually be possible to cause flat head in babies if you put pressure on your baby’s head while you hold her. For several months, I almost always held my baby in my left arm to nurse, drink a bottle, take a nap, etc. That’s when I started to see a flat spot on his head! Make sure that you switch arms every time you hold your baby to even things out.
Tip #3 – Alternate Sides of the Crib Each Night
It is very common for babies to turn their head slightly while they sleep. Many babies will turn towards the light, door, or mom and dad standing outside of the crib. If you always place your baby in the same direction, he will always turn his head to the same direction and is more likely to develop a flat spot.
When you put your baby in the crib or bassinet, try to flip directions each night. One night, have his head to the left and feet to the right. Tomorrow flip him around.
Rotating each night encourages your baby to turn his head to the opposite direction. This helps ensure muscle strength is the same on both sides. Plus it prevents developing flat head syndrome in infants because they aren’t always laying on the same spot.
Tip #4 – Alternate Sides While Your Baby is Awake
Similar to the last tip, when your baby is awake she will move her head to see what is going on around her.
If she hears music coming from the tv or radio, she’ll start to look in that direction. She’ll turn her head to look towards you if you always sit on the couch next to her activity mat.
If she always lays in the same orientation in these spots, she can develop flat head syndrome. She might also start to develop muscle imbalance from strengthening muscles on one side but not the other.
Throughout the day, flip your baby around and try to switch directions while she plays. This encourages her to look in both directions and helps with preventing flat head in infants.
If you find out that your baby has infant flat head syndrome, should you be worried about it?
Mama, take a deep breath and try to relax!
Most babies with plagiocephaly are perfectly fine. They won’t have any cognitive or developmental delays or need any medical interventions. Their head may re-shape on its own (check out my tips below!). Or they might grow up to have a slight flat spot and look a little goofy if they ever decide to shave their head.
Occassionally babies have more pronounced and severe cases of flat head syndrome. If untreated, it can put pressure on the brain or stunt development. But again, don’t worry! There are therapies and medical interventions that can help!
Although your baby will probably be perfectly fine, it is very important to talk to your doctor if you are worried about flat head syndrome. Your doctor can help you identify if it is a mild or severe case. Then she can help you to understand how to fix flat head syndrome in your infant.
How to treat flat head in babies?
Fix #1: Change Positions While your Baby Sleeps
Your baby spends the most time on her back while she’s sleeping. Which means that helping to adjust her sleeping position can make the biggest difference to help fix flat spots. Once you put down your baby to nap or sleep for the night, adjust her head.
Turn her head so that the flat spot is facing up (not touching the bed) and the “curved” spot is against the mattress. Your baby will probably move through the night and might turn her head back to sleep on the flat spot. However, if you adjust her head every time you put her down to sleep, you decrease the amount of time she spends laying on that spot. And this can be an easy fix for a mild case of infant flat head syndrome.
Pro-Tip: We broke a lot of sleep rules to get through sleep challenges during our first few months. Letting our newborn sleep on my chest not only helped us all get
sleep. It also greatly decreased his chances of developing a flat spot because he wasn’t putting any pressure on his head.
Fix #2: Adopt the Mantra: “When Awake, Lay on Tummy”
If your baby has a flat spot, it is very important that you reduce the time that your baby spends on her back. If she is awake, don’t put her in the swing, car seat, bouncer, etc. unless you need to.
Instead, increase your tummy time and put your baby on her tummy whenever she is awake. This guarantees that there will be no additional time spent on her back and gives her head a break to re-shape and fix the flat spot.
Pro-Tip: We adjusted this mantra a bit. “When awake, lay on tummy OR with mommy!” When my baby was awake, we would have tummy time play or we would hold and cuddle him. Try to hold and cuddle your baby in a way that there is no pressure on his head for maximum benefit.
Fix #3: Cranial Orthotic Treatment (a Baby Helmet)
If your baby has a more severe case of
Depending on the severity of the flat spot, your baby may need the helmet for a month or for several months. During this cranial orthotic treatment, your baby typically wears the helmet for 23 hours a day. This makes sure that the baby helmet does its job and properly re-shapes your baby’s head.
I recently read an amazing post from Normal Mom Life about things to know when your baby is in a helmet. (Go check it out here!) I love the analogy she shares in her post:
Many parents feel embarrassed that their child needs a helmet. But you don’t feel ashamed if your child needs braces! Braces help realign your teeth and the helmet helps to realign your baby’s skull. Don’t feel embarrassed and please don’t let this stop you from getting treatment if your baby needs it. (Because severe cases cannot fix themselves without treatment.)
Don’t let yourself become obsessed with worrying about baby flat head syndrome.
Be proactive about following these tips to flat spots on your baby’s head. But if a flat spot does develop, you’re not a bad parent. You didn’t neglect your baby. And things will be okay.
Did your baby ever get a flat spot? What things did you do to prevent or treat this?