One of our immediate instincts as parents is to watch our babies no matter their actions. It doesn’t matter if they’re crawling around the room aimlessly and babbling away—we have to see and supervise everything they do.
So you might be spooked when you first notice a flat area on your toddler’s head. Believe it or not, that is common with newborn babies, and many parents can relate. It might help quell your worries if we delve into the head deformities and how they can affect your child.
What is Flat Head Syndrome?
This phenomenon commonly affects newborn infants aged six weeks to two months old. It refers to a set of deformities surrounding an infant’s head shape caused by a number of varying factors. Although it isn’t considered an alarming condition, some cases may be severe and cause harmful effects.
Depending on how it affects your child’s head formation, there are three manifestations of this syndrome: plagiocephaly, brachycephaly, and scaphocephaly.
Some people use the terms “flat head syndrome” and “plagiocephaly” interchangeably because of how common it is. Still, they fail to consider that this is just one type. Plagiocephaly is a condition in which a particular side of the baby’s skull is visibly flat. In addition, in some cases, an area in front of a baby’s head bulges.
This malformation causes the head to be asymmetrical and appear like a parallelogram. In addition, the ear on the affected side is pushed forward, and the baby may develop a few facial deformities, such as uneven eye sockets, cheeks, and jaw bones.
This condition may be positional or congenital. Positional plagiocephaly occurs due to external factors like sleeping position, while congenital plagiocephaly is a deformity present at birth.
Contrary to plagiocephaly, brachycephaly manifests as a flattening on the rear portion of the skull and makes your toddler’s head look wide and short.
An infant with this condition will have protruding ears and a bulging forehead. The back of their heads may also appear higher than usual. Similar to plagiocephaly, this deformity can be positional or congenital.
Lastly, scaphocephaly is the rarest type of the syndrome. This deformity affects both sides of an infant’s skull, making the baby’s head elongated and thin. As a result, ears will appear misaligned. In addition, affected babies will have ridges on top of their heads instead of soft spots.
Compared to the previously mentioned forms, scaphocephaly is a congenital disorder caused by craniosynostosis. Severe and untreated cases may have increased pressure in the skull and may result in brain damage.
Below is a table summarizing each type.
|Positional or congenital
|Looks like a parallelogram
|One flattened side, head asymmetry, forehead bulge, uneven eyes and cheekbones, skewed jaw bone
|Positional or congenital
|Wide and short
|Rear portion of the head is flat and appears higher, protruding ears, forehead bulge
|Elongated and thin
|Uneven ears, ridges on top of the head, seizures, vomiting, blindness
How Is It Different From Craniosynostosis?
Because both disorders affect an infant’s head, some people may confuse flat head syndrome with craniosynostosis. As discussed, flat head syndrome is a general term for abnormalities regarding a baby’s head shape, which can occur due to various factors. One of these factors is craniosynostosis.
When a baby is born, the skull isn’t fully developed. An infant will have soft spots or fontanels because their sutures or the spaces between the skull bones have yet to come together and harden. An infant’s sutures usually close up at around two years of age. Craniosynostosis is a disorder wherein these openings close prematurely.
Craniosynostosis causes congenital plagiocephaly and brachycephaly. This condition is extremely detrimental to your child’s brain development due to a buildup of pressure in the skull resulting from early-closing sutures. The pressure can cause vomiting, nausea, seizures, and blindness. The cause is still unknown.
It is important to have a doctor check your baby as soon as they show signs of flat head syndrome. Doing so will allow you to determine if it is caused by craniosynostosis or other factors and will significantly minimize the effects of the condition.
What Causes My Baby’s Head to Flatten?
Besides craniosynostosis, several other factors can affect how your baby’s head develops. Let’s discuss a few to understand the condition further and to prevent it from happening.
As mentioned, a baby’s skull will take about nine to eighteen months to develop fully. There will be soft spots and open sutures because their bone formation is not complete yet. An infant’s head will still be naturally soft.
As a result, their head and skull can be easily molded. Fortunately, you won’t cause any harm or injury to your child if you accidentally touch their soft spots. Premature babies are more prone to this syndrome because their heads are softer than regular babies.
Due to the state of their skulls, simple factors like a baby’s sleep position can affect how their head forms. Flat spots on infants’ heads usually occur due to prolonged periods of lying down on one side or the back without changing sleep positions.
In recent years, there has been an increase in the number of flattened head cases. This upsurge is due to doctors’ recommendations of having children lie on their backs to prevent sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
An infant’s neck muscles can also affect the head. Weak neck muscles do not have enough strength to support and keep a baby’s head upright. Hence, there is a tendency that their head will roll around and turn from side to side, which can flatten their heads.
Another neck disorder that can lead to flat spots on the head is torticollis or wryneck. This condition twists the neck muscles, causing tightness in these muscles. As a result, the head will be temporarily tilted to one side, which can likely cause flattened heads.
Pregnancy and Birth
There are times when the pregnancy and birth process can cause a flattened head. For example, a baby’s position in the uterus can affect their head. If the space in the uterus is too small, the pressure may push against a fetus’ head and cause flat spots.
The pressure inside the uterus or birth canal during childbirth may also cause torticollis, resulting in twisted neck muscles and a tilted head.
What Will Happen if I Leave It Unresolved?
Fortunately, mild and moderate cases of the syndrome don’t have many long-lasting harmful effects on a baby’s brain development. However, having a misshapen head can still negatively affect your child in other developmental aspects if the syndrome is left untreated.
Experts found that unresolved syndrome is linked to some future developmental and physical issues, such as delayed motor development, problems in the ear and eyes, sleep apnea, spinal concerns, and complications in the jaw.
A flattened head can also affect your child’s psychological well-being. For instance, an affected child is likely to experience teasing and bullying from their peers, which can lower self-esteem and diminish confidence.
6 Ways to Avoid Flat Spots on Your Child’s Head
Now that you know about the causes and effects of flat areas on the head, here are a few ways to prevent a head flattening from fully developing.
- Visit a professional as soon as you see symptoms. The quicker you identify what causes the flatness, the smaller the risks and effects your baby will have. Additionally, getting immediate medical advice will prevent further malformations from forming.
- Encourage other sleep positions. Occasionally reposition your child’s head while they sleep to reduce the time a baby spends lying down on one side. Have them lie on their stomachs and practice supervised tummy time to avoid SIDS.
- Use a head-shaping pillow. One of the easiest ways to resolve flat spots is to get a head-shaping pillow. This type of pillow gives support to your baby’s neck and spine, preventing further flattening.
- Make your child wear a correcting helmet. Wearing a helmet specialized for correcting a flattened head can help control how your child’s head forms.
- Get your baby into physical therapy. Similar to custom helmets, physical therapists can correct your child’s head shape. Getting your toddler into physical therapy as soon as possible can stop developmental and physical issues from emerging.
- If the case is too severe or caused by craniosynostosis, they may require surgery. Cases wherein the child is vomiting and having seizures call for surgical procedures to adjust the skull and alleviate the pressure inside it.
Prevent Misshapen Heads with Ashtonbee!
A flat spot on your tiny one’s head can be alarming the first time you see and feel it. But as long as you get your baby checked by a medical expert and remember our tips, you and your baby are safe from the horrors of flat head syndrome.
Let Ashtonbee help you overcome your flat head fears. Ashtonbee’s head-shaping baby pillow offers great support for your child’s head, neck, and spine to prevent tight neck muscles and flat head syndrome. It is a soft, hypoallergenic, breathable sleeping companion that can take your baby into a peaceful slumber.
Our pillow perfectly fits in bassinets, infant car seats, strollers, and more, so you can travel anywhere without worrying. We also offer various baby products to help with all your child’s essentials. Check out our selection here!