Understanding Plagiocephly (Flat Head Syndrome)

Many parents often worry when they discover a flat spot on their infant’s head. Usually, a small flat spot can be corrected by repositioning your baby, but there are occasions when a flat spot can develop into something more severe – Plagiocephaly.

Every year, approximately one in 60 infants in the U.S. develops Plagiocephaly, a syndrome defined by the flattening of a baby’s head that occurs usually from consistent pressure to one area of the skull. It’s become more frequent in recent years due to the popularity of the Back to Sleep campaign, which advocates placing infants to sleep on their backs to help reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). If you are a parent whose little girl has just been diagnosed review the information below to help you better understand the issues and treatment associated with Plagiocephaly.

Causes of Plagiocephaly:

  • Sleep Positioning. Babies are born with soft skulls, and when they are placed on their backs to sleep every night, their little head can develop a flat spot from pressing against the mattress. Often, this occurs with infants who are born with torticollis, when a tight muscle on one side of the neck causes a child’s head to tilt slightly to one side. Notably, premature babies are most risk for developing torticollis and plagiocephaly.
  • Early skull fusion. Sometimes, plagiocephaly is caused by bones in the skull joining together abnormally early. Typically, bones in the skull fuse slowly, but if some grow faster than others, it may pull the skull in different directions, causing a misshapen head.
  • Constricted Womb or Multiple Births. Plagiocephaly can also occur if there is insufficient room in the uterus while the baby is developing. This can happen if there is a multiple birth, if there’s not a sufficient amount of amniotic fluid, or if the uterus or pelvis is particularly small.

What Can Parents Do?

  • Talk with your pediatrician. If you find a flat spot on your baby’s head, it’s a good idea to talk with your doctor. Usually, most flat spots will eventually round out by themselves, but it’s best to check with the experts. If her case is more severe, then your doctor will recommend further treatment.
  • Sleep Repositioning. Many times if the flat spot is minor, your doctor may recommend repositioning your baby when she sleeps to help alleviate pressure on the flat side of her head. Your pediatrician will also want you to increase tummy time for your daughter to help strengthen her neck muscles. Finally, limiting the amount of time your baby spends in bouncy seat, swings, car seat, and strollers can greatly reduce the appearance of a flat head.
  • Seek Diagnosis and Treatment. If your child’s case is severe, she will be recommended for cranial orthotic therapy. And though the name sounds intimidating, the process is not harmful to your child. Infants are fitted for a special customized headband that must be worn for 23 to 24 hours a day to correct the shape of her skull. Bands are usually worn from two to six months, depending on the severity of the problem. Research has found that cranial orthotic therapy is most successful when started before the age of 6 months.

If you decide to go with cranial orthotic therapy, be sure to research the various companies that offer this service to find the best fit for your child. Therapy is very expensive (on average $3,000) so you should also check with your insurance company to see exactly what they cover. Though it seems like wearing a band for 24 hours a day would be painful for an infant, most babies adjust quickly to the process.