As with any medical condition, some various myths and misconceptions develop and can confuse those seeking advice or treatment. Flat head syndrome myths follow suit in this, with it usually being assumed that a baby’s flat head will always correct itself. We are regularly asked by parents, “will flat head syndrome correct itself?” because of this assumption. This is a misconception, as the condition differs from case to case, as does the likelihood of the misshapen head correcting itself without treatment. This post will address some of the common flat-headed baby myths, to help parents decide on the next steps for their baby.
1. Flat Head Syndrome is Purely Cosmetic
It is true that a flattened head shape is fundamentally a cosmetic issue. However, this ‘only cosmetic’ condition can lead to social issues during childhood and into adolescence. Research on some of the potential long-term effects of the condition indicates that there is some evidence to suggest that there is a link between flat head syndrome and delays in development. This is not to say that the head shape has caused a development delay, but that there is an association between the two issues, so parents and doctors should note this marker and, when necessary, conduct further investigation.
Having a misshapen and flat head can also impact individuals psychologically. It is therefore clear from these factors that flat head syndrome is more than ‘just’ or ‘only’ a cosmetic issue.
2. The Back to Sleep Campaign is Solely to Blame
The Back to Sleep Campaign is extremely important in helping to prevent Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, and the strong advice is that babies should always be placed onto their backs to sleep. This advice has saved the lives of thousands of babies, and the medical and social professions fully endorse it. In some cases, and this is only a small percentage of babies, flattening can start to develop in one area. Due to this, flat head syndrome has been seen by some as an unexpected side effect of the Back to Sleep Campaign.
Although there has been a recent rise in the incidence of flat head syndrome, placing your baby on the back is often not the main cause of the condition. Many babies can develop a flat head as a direct result of their positioning in the womb before they are even born, known as positional moulding. Babies can also have the tendency to develop a flat head during birth, with passage through the birth canal causing temporary bruising in the neck or shoulder muscles.
Some other factors affecting the head shape can occur after the baby is born, for example, if a baby is often held or fed in the same position, or when playing on their back. These situations can exert prolonged pressure on one part of a baby’s head. Babies sleeping on their back certainly has some role to play in the development of flat head syndrome, but babies may still be susceptible to the condition if it weren’t for the Back to Sleep campaign.
3. All Flat Heads Correct Over Time
We must address the frequently asked question, ‘does flat head correct itself?’. In milder cases, flat head syndrome should correct itself naturally. In the case of positional moulding and deformities that occur during birth, these do often correct themselves throughout the early months of life. This can also be the case for babies who have developed a flat head after they are born. At first notice, parents should use some repositioning techniques.
However, these efforts are not always successful, and repositioning techniques can sometimes fail. If this is the case, it is unlikely that the condition will correct itself. If so, we recommend that parents should make an appointment to see a specialist clinician, who will assess the severity of your baby’s head and advise you on whether or not the baby would benefit from helmet treatment (aka a flat head helmet).
Treatment should only take place if repositioning techniques have failed or if the baby is older and sitting and rolling over. There is quite a short window of time in which a baby’s head shape is malleable and able to be reshaped, and because of this, it is crucial to use repositioning techniques as soon as a flattening is noticed and to seek treatment if this is not working.
4. Flat Head Syndrome is the Fault of the Parent
Mums and dads are amazing! They are great at loving and taking care of their babies. They’re also great at blaming themselves for everything if they see that their baby is having problems. As much as there are techniques such as repositioning to try to improve flat head syndrome, some head shapes simply are too severe to self-correct. Whether a flat head shape has developed before, during, or after birth, some babies will still develop the condition. This is through no fault of the parent and really cannot be prevented.
5. Cranial Helmet Treatment is Painful to the Baby
When other avenues have failed, and in severe cases, a cranial helmet can be the only effective way of correcting a flat head in babies. This treatment isn’t painful and doesn’t restrict growth or hurt the baby’s head. Instead, it works alongside a baby’s natural head growth to bring about correction. Because every helmet is custom made and accurately manufactured to fit each baby, the helmet is extremely lightweight and comfortable. Some babies can experience small rashes or redness at the start of treatment, but this can be minimised through keeping the flat head helmet (and the baby) clean. Other than this, helmets are expertly fitted to ensure that they don’t hurt.
6. Flat Head Syndrome Isn’t a Proper Condition Because Treatment is not NHS Funded
In the UK, the NHS does not fund treatment for flat head syndrome, despite a rise in prevalence and an increase in research surrounding the condition. The advice given by the NHS to parents whose baby has a flat head is that, “Your baby’s skull should correct itself naturally over time if you take some simple measures to take pressure off the flattened part of their head and encourage them to try different positions”, arguing that the condition is ‘just cosmetic’. However, the reality is that some head shapes are so severe that simple repositioning techniques will not work in time before the corrective head growth slows down.
There are also various research papers that explore long-term effects of untreated flat head syndrome, as well as the possibility of children being vulnerable to trauma from bullying and social exclusion. Despite the NHS failing to acknowledge these factors, the condition very much exists, and babies can benefit from good treatment if the syndrome is severe.
At Technology in Motion, our website and blog are a source of much information surrounding flat head syndrome. If you are concerned about your baby’s head shape, contact us today to book a free pre-assessment appointment at your nearest clinic.