What is flat head syndrome?

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At our mom and baby group a mom mentioned that her baby had flat head syndrome. What is this and how do I prevent my baby getting it?


The “flat head syndrome” your friend is referring to is probably acquired or positional plagiocephaly. Babies who are left to lie on their backs most of the time for the first six months of their life may develop a fl at-appearing part of their skull. It can also happen in busy crèches where babies may be left to lie in their cots or in baby chairs or car seats all day without changing their position.

Babies’ skulls are supposed to be soft and pliable. Professor John Rodda, head of paediatric neurology at Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital, says that babies’ heads are soft at birth to make birthing easier and to accommodate the rapidly growing brain.

When there is premature joining of the skull bones, this is called craniosynostosis and surgical intervention is actually necessary to prevent constricting brain growth. Make sure your baby gets lots of tummy time and change her position often to avoid an indentation forming on one part of her skull.

Plagiocephaly can’t be avoided when babies are born with this condition. This may have been caused by lying breech or when there’s restricted interuterine movement. Plagiocephaly can be aggravated if a baby has shorter neck muscles or if they were injured during the birth, making babies reluctant to move their heads because it is painful. Other causes includes Down Syndrome and premature babies with weak muscle tone, which means that they tend to favour one sleeping position which, over time, could flatten the back of the head.

Special helmets have been designed to treat severe head shape problems that indicates plagiocephaly (flatness on the sides), brachycephaly (flatness on the back of the head) and scaphocephaly (when the baby’s head is “boat-shaped” as a result of the joint at the top of the head closing too early).

If you suspect plagiocephaly, to take photographs of your baby’s head regularly so that you can make a comparison to see if the condition is improving or deteriorating.

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