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The Good News about Plagiocephaly
As scary as this word sounds… the good news is… that this condition is not that scary and is usually easily reversible as well!
So what exactly is plagiocephaly, you ask?
Positional plagiocephaly (pronounced play-jee-oh-SEF-uh-lee) is a benign scull deformity or irregular head shape that is often seen in babies.
Most commonly know as “Flat Head Syndrome”, this condition is fairly common today. So common, in fact, that it is believed that approximately 48% of babies have it, to some degree. (source)
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), flat head syndrome is rarely serious and usually reversible. (source)
Even so, most parents would prefer to avoid this with their babies, right?
So, how can you avoid this condition with your baby?
The Truth about Plagiocephaly
Babies are born with soft heads.
This allows for incredible brain growth during the first year of life as well as making it easier for babies to pass through the birth canal during childbirth.
You may have seen a newborn with a cone shape head soon after birth. That is because their skull literally molds to the birth canal during birth!
But, because baby’s head is so “mold able” it’s fairly common for a baby to develop flat spots.
Additionally, premature babies are more likely to have flat spots because their skulls are softer than full-term babies.
Causes of Plagiocephaly
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that infants sleep on their backs to reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and other sleep-related deaths.
As a result, pediatricians have seen an increase in the number of children with positional plagiocephaly, or positional skull deformities (flat heads).
The most common cause of these flat spots is baby’s sleep position.
Because babies spend so much time sleeping on their backs, their heads sometimes flatten in one spot.
How to Prevent and Reverse Positional Plagiocephaly in Infants
Since babies are encouraged to sleep on their backs to lower the risk of SIDS, how can parents prevent their babies from developing flat head spots?
Is your baby at risk?
Some babies are at higher risk of developing flat spots on their heads. Learn if your baby is high risk in this post.
8 Great Tips to Prevent (and Reverse) Flat Spots in Babies…
1. Tummy Time
Beginning shortly after birth, make sure that your baby gets plenty of supervised “tummy time”!
Tummy time is exercise time for your baby!
It helps strengthen your baby’s neck, shoulder and arm muscles. This goes a long way in preventing a stiff neck or torticollis. (Infant torticollis is a leading contributor to positional plagiocephaly.)
In addition, tummy time also gets your baby off his back which promotes normal shaping of the back of the head.
There are many ways to encourage tummy time with your newborn.
The most obvious way is to give your baby some floor time each day. A simple blanket on the floor will do, but some parents use tummy time mats like this one.
When most people think of tummy time, they think of floor time. But, did you know that your baby can have plenty of tummy time without even being on the floor?
Yes! Tummy time does NOT need to be a fussy time that you and your baby dread. This post tells you how!
2. Hold Your Baby
Allow your baby to sleep in your arms or to be held as much as possible during sleep.
Contrary to popular belief, you cannot spoil your baby from holding her too much! That’s a myth that is simply wrong. Ignore all the bad baby advice that you hear about holding your baby too much and DON’T BE AFRAID TO HOLD YOUR BABY!
Enjoy those baby snuggles and cuddles while you have them. They won’t last forever!
3. Wear Your Baby
Like holding your baby, baby-wearing is a great way to keep your baby upright and safe during sleep.
This takes the pressure off the back of his head, minimizing the time he spends laying flat. It also encourages the development of strong head and neck muscles. All this helps prevent or reverse flat head spots.
Baby-wearing is also a great way to keep your baby healthy and avoid germy fingers always trying to touch him!
4. Avoid Overuse of Inclined Seat Devices
Many parents make the mistake of allowing their babies to sleep for prolonged periods of time in car seats, swings, infant seats and other inclined devices.
This is not a good idea.
Aside from the deadly risk of positional asphyxiation, inclined devices such as baby swings, rocking seats, and other infant seats are simply bad for your baby’s motor development.
Poor muscle tone and weak neck strength increases the likelihood of an infant developing flat spots.
Read why from a pediatric occupational therapist in this post.
Related: Best Swaddles for Newborns
5. Watch Your Baby’s Head Position During Sleep
It’s a good idea to pay attention to your baby’s head position during sleep.
Does she favor turning her head one way? Do you notice that he always faces his head the same direction? Does he prefer to nurse facing one way?
These are all indicators that your baby may have infant torticollis, which could lead to positional plagiocephaly.
6. Regular Chiropractic Care
I love chiropractic care!
When I was a young mother, I took all my newborns to a chiropractor to have them checked out.
Chiropractors are able to diagnose and treat many common newborn issues, including infant torticollis and positional plagiocephaly.
If you prefer alternative health care for your family like I do, consider chiropractic care for your baby!
7. Re-position Your Baby’s Head During Sleep
Re-position your baby’s head (from left to right, right to left) when your baby is sleeping on his back.
Even though he’ll probably move again throughout the night, it’s still a good idea to place your child with the rounded side of the head touching the mattress and the flattened side facing up.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) does not recommend using any wedge pillows or other devices to keep your baby in one position!
8. Alternate Your Baby’s Position in the Crib
How do you lay your baby down in the crib?
For example, most right-handed parents carry small infants cradled in their left arms and lay them down with the heads to their left. In this position, the infant must turn to the right to look out into the room.
…and, guess what?
Torticollis to the right with flattening of the right side of the head is far more common than the left. Hmmm….
Whichever side of your infant’s head is flattened, you will want to position your baby in the crib to encourage active turning of the head to the other side.
If your baby has not developed a flat spot, alternating his sleep position can help prevent it altogether!
*Disclaimer – The information in the post is for educational purposes only. It is not intended to be medical advice. Please make sure that you talk with your doctor if you suspect that your baby may be developing positional plagiocephaly or torticollis.
In addition to the above recommendations, you doctor may prescribe physical therapy, special stretching exercises or even a helmet if needed.
Have you ever had an infant diagnosed with plagiocephaly or torticollis? What has been most helpful for you? Please share in the comments!