Flat head syndrome (deformational plagiocephaly) is when a baby’s head develops a lasting flat spot. The flat spot may be either on one side of the head or on the back of the head. This happens when a baby sleeps in the same position most of the time or because of problems with the neck muscles.
This condition is different from craniosynostosis. In craniosynostosis, a baby’s skull bones fuse together before they are supposed to. In deformational plagiocephaly, the skull bones do not fuse.
The skull flattens when a baby’s head stays in one position for long periods of time. Sometimes a baby is born with this flattening because of a tight space in the uterus. This may happen if you are having twins or other multiples. Other factors that may increase the risk for flat head syndrome include:
A baby is more likely to have this condition if any of the following are true:
Treatment will depend on your baby’s symptoms, age, and general health. It will also depend on how severe the condition is. Some babies don't need treatment. The condition may go away when the baby begins to sit up.
For other babies, treatment may include:
Your baby may need to wear a special band or helmet if the problem is moderate to severe and turning the baby’s head has not helped. Helmets are usually made of an outer hard shell with a foam lining. Gentle pressure helps to reform the head. As the head grows, adjustments are made. Some studies have shown that helmets were not helpful for moderate to severe skull deformation.
The average treatment with a helmet is usually 3 to 6 months. This will depend on the age of the baby and the severity of the condition. Your baby's healthcare provider will need to check your child carefully and often. Helmets must be prescribed by a licensed healthcare provider with craniofacial experience.
This condition has increased since the national Back to Sleep campaign began. This campaign was started to decrease deaths from sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). It has been very successful. It is important that young babies who can't roll over or move on their own not be placed on their belly to sleep. To help prevent a flat head:
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your child’s healthcare provider: