Plagiocephaly, or flat head syndrome, is a condition where a baby’s head has an uneven distortion on one side or the back. It is usually caused by a baby spending too much time laying down with pressure on the same spot of their head. A baby also could have a genetic predisposition or been in an unusual position in the womb.
Positional flat spots are not shown to cause any internal effects like damage to the brain, but mostly a cosmetic concern. However, it could be a red flag for further issues, like neck muscle tightness or visual issues. The good news is that it can be corrected, and even prevented, if addressed early enough.
Even if your baby doesn’t have a completely flat head, you may notice some spots that are flattened. A newborn’s skull is very soft to allow for it to pass through the birth canal. So when they’re in the same position for awhile, putting pressure on one spot, their head will tend to reshape to adjust for that.
What can you do about it?
There are several ways you can prevent or even change your baby’s head shape depending on the severity of the flattening. If it’s a slightly flattened spot that you are worried about and they’re in the 2-4 month old range, changing positions should do just fine. Also, once your baby is able to sit up independently and not relying on baby gear to lay in all day, their head will get rounder on it’s own.
If there is a more significant deformity, your best option may be a helmet to reshape the head. Remember, addressing this concern as early as possible will make sure there are no lasting effects. So it may be hard to decide on the helmet, but once it’s done it’s job, you don’t need to worry about it ever again!
It’s not your fault if your baby’s head is getting flat! You’re not a bad mom if you had to leave them in the swing a few extra minutes to save your sanity or because you let them sleep in the Rock n Play because you need a good night’s sleep to function.
Some babies are just more prone to this happening and it won’t cause lasting effects since you’re addressing it early. You’re doing a great job and now take the necessary steps to give your baby a rounder head!
Here are some tips and positions to help remove the pressure from your baby’s flat spot.
Decrease time in baby gear
The longer time your child spends in typical inclined baby gear (swings, bouncers, car seat, etc.), the more chance they have for their head to get molded, resulting in flat spots. Limit their time in these devices to reduce the chance of developing these spots.
There are several other positions and ways you can sit or lay your baby down that will decrease pressure on their head. You might be thinking, but my baby is only content being in his swing and screams if I try to put him anywhere else. I can’t hold him ALL day.
As long as you are getting them out of the gear for a few minute intervals at a time then you’re making progress. Babies may only tolerate tummy time for 1-2 minutes during the first week of life, but as they get older and stronger, they may be able to stay there for 15-20 minutes. They will get there, it just takes consistency and practice!
Listed below are ways to position or put them down without the pressure on their head. Try each one for a few minutes a day to see what works best for your baby.
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Tummy time is always the best option to to prevent a flat head. Not only does it get the pressure and weight off of their head, it has so many benefits for strengthening their neck and arms and is a great way to get them started with rolling and crawling. You can also use a Boppy for tummy time activities to make it a little easier on them.
I wrote a whole post about The Benefits of Tummy Time and How to Make it Easier for your Baby if they’re having a hard time with it. Check it out to get ideas to make it more enjoyable for your baby.
Your baby may like laying on their side better than on their belly. Just roll up a small blanket or towel and put it behind their back to stabilize them. Their weight will want to roll them to their back, so this can prevent that.
Put some toys, music makers, a mirror, or better yet- your face, in front of them and they may enjoy laying like this for awhile. This will take pressure off the back of their head, but if your baby has a flattened spot on the side, be sure to place them on the opposite side. You can rotate them every so often and remember not to leave your baby unattended when doing these exercises.
I love this little gadget and you can start putting your baby in it around the 2 month mark or when he can hold his head up independently. I know a lot of people tend to either buy the Sit-Me-Up or the Bumbo, but I think this seat is much more versatile.
It offers higher back support so your baby can use it earlier even when they don’t have the trunk strength to sit upright on their own. The Sit-me-up has wider leg holes than the Bumbo for those chunky-thighed babies. It also gives baby a chance to be sitting upright so they can make eye contact with you, as well as a little bar in front to rest a toy on.
They probably won’t be able to tolerate it very long in the beginning. Their head may keep flopping down at times. However, as their core and neck strength increase, they will enjoy spending more time in it.
You can start putting your baby in an activity center or jumper once they have good trunk control, can hold their head up well, and can bear some weight in their feet. This is usually around 4 months. This will get them off their back and more upright.
I particularly love this one from Skip Hop because it has a flat surface for baby to stabilize himself on instead of having to bouncing, neutral colors to blend in with modern decor, lots of activities to keep your baby occupied, and transitions to a regular table once they are a little older.
I’m sure you’re doing a lot of this anyway and don’t want to put your precious little baby down. However, we do have things to get done during the day and unfortunately can’t hold them all day long.
As they start holding holding their head up a little straighter, you can hold them in different positions like over your shoulder, facing out and upright, so there’s no pressure on their head.
Use a baby carrier
I use the Baby K’Tan all the time around the house. It wraps around my baby nice and snug so he feels held and cuddled, but I can still get my chores done. Of course, there’s no pressure placed on his head and I can slip him in and out of it multiple times a day.
Prop them up on the Boppy Newborn Lounger
The Boppy Newborn Lounger is a great device that gives you a place to put your baby down that feels comfortable and safe for them. If you prop up the cushion a bit, it’s a great position for your baby. You don’t want them to be completely sitting upright because they may fall forward, a little bit more reclined.
They are still propped up, but their head is not directly resting on the pillow. Even if they do rest their head back, they’re not putting much pressure on the back of the head. This is ideal for a little older newborn who has better neck control.
Make sure they are in a safe place. I use this with my baby on the couch at times, but always make sure it’s pushed all the way back and that I’m watching him closely. The safest place is to prop it against the bottom of the couch or another piece of furniture to ensure your baby can’t wobble and fall forward.
Sit them up with a Boppy
Again, as your newborn begins to gain more control of thier head and neck, you can use the regular Boppy to support your baby in a seated position.
Prop them up on your knee
Just another way to hold your baby while you’re interacting with them that doesn’t put any pressure on the back of their head.
We used this Head Positioner Pillow with my daughter when I started noticing a flat spot forming. Its helps to distribute the weight of their head while they are laying on their back so it’s not directly on the one flat spot.
Although, American Academy of Pediatrics advises against anything in the crib or bassinet, you can try it out for naps or when your baby has to be in a swing or rock n play so you can observe how they use it. So make sure you use your discretion if you’re going to put anything else in your baby’s crib.
If your baby has Torticollis, a condition where the head becomes tilted to one side, they may be more likely to develop flat spots. Due to tightness in a neck muscle, their head is constantly being turned in the same direction. The best thing to prevent over tightness of this muscle and flat spots on the head, is to perform neck stretches multiple times a day.
Your pediatrician should be aware of this and give you stretches and possibly a referral for physical therapy. The stretches include gently, but firmly, using your hands to pull the head in the opposite direction that your infant wants to turn. If you haven’t yet spoken to a pediatrician about it, watch this video to learn how to stretch your child’s neck.
If you are noticing flat spots on your baby’s head, don’t think you can’t put your baby in a swing or rock n play again. Just make sure you are limiting the time they spend in them. Consistently rotate them through all of these positions and devices to allow their head to reshape.
If you still notice some insignificant flat spots and they aren’t sitting up yet, give it time and it should flatten out on it’s own. Of course, if your baby’s head has a signifiant flattening, don’t hesitate to take them to the doctor to get a helmet made. The sooner you start, the better.
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