Flat Head Syndrome

Mr Sanj Bassi explains what is flat syndrome is and how to differentiate plagiocephaly and brachycephaly:

As a paediatric consultant I frequently see babies who have been born or even developed plagiocephaly. Today I am going to be explaining what it exactly is and why you should not be worried.

There is often a slight misconception when it comes to babies having plagiocephaly and brachycephaly, the words in itself are complicated enough to make even the most resilient parents fear for the worst – but do not despair I am here to explain.

As mentioned above, there are two types of flat head syndrome:

Plagiocephaly – is the flattening on one side of the baby’s head. This can be caused due to continued pressure on one side of the head and causes it to look asymmetrical. The ear can be more forward than the other and there can be an unbalanced or bulging look to the face.

Brachycephaly – is the flattening of the back of the head, resulting in a wider and shorter head. This can be caused when the baby is laying down on their back for a long period of time.

Babies have soft skulls when they are born, this makes them vulnerable to conditions like this. It is also very common, affecting 1 in every 5 babies.

The causes of these conditions do vary. Here are some of the reasons as to why babies can be born with or develop plagiocephaly or brachycephaly:

Problems in the womb – Due to increased pressure in the womb or a decrease in amniotic fluid, the baby may be a bit squashed with not much room to move around, which causes the skull to flatten.

Premature babies – They can be vulnerable to flat head syndrome because their skulls are underdeveloped.

Sleeping position – Sometimes due to babies constantly sleeping on their back, it can cause the head to become flat at the back because of the constant pressure when the baby is sleeping.

Tightened neck muscles – Some babies can have tight neck muscles which can prevent them from turning their head, this can cause the head to flatten due to increased pressure on one side.

Here are some suggestions to help your baby take pressure off the flattened part of the head and also strengthen neck muscles.

Tummy time – Tummy time is an important part of a baby’s development, it encourages them to strengthen their neck muscles and improve their co-ordination. As they get older they will be able to lift their head and push up.

When sleeping – The Safest way for your baby to sleep is on their back, this is to prevent SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome) but if your baby constantly lays on a preferred side or the flattened side then you can move their head the other way.

Feeding or holding – When feeding or holding your baby you can change the position so they are not always on one side. Moving from left arm to right arm can do this.

The thing is, the more you change your baby’s position the less chance they have of getting a flattened head. This does not mean to constantly move them in fear that this will happen, but just to be aware and if you notice your baby favours one side then you can take the steps to encourage them to move to another side.

If your baby does have a misshaped head and you are wondering if your baby’s head will ever round out then I am here to tell you that by the time your baby is 1 or 2 years old then any flattening should have improved by then and will hardly if not at all noticeable, especially as their hair grows.

That said, if you are worries and are concerned it could be craniosynostosis not just flat head syndrome we are here to help. Craniosynostosis is a birth defect where the fibrous joints in the baby’s skull close too early before the brain is fully formed. As the skull bones (sutures) have fused, the brain will still continue to grow and expand as the baby develops over which will lead to abnormal and misshapen appearance.

This article is intended to inform and give insight but not treat, diagnose or replace the advice of a doctor. Always seek medical advice with any questions regarding a medical condition. 

Back to brain conditions or craniofacial conditions.