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Baby's Head Shape Concerns: What Every Parent Should Know

Understanding Baby's Head Shape: Essential Insights for Every Parent
This blog offers parents some guidance and reassurance about how to cope when they notice that their baby’s head shape isn’t looking as it should. 

It’s magical having a new baby in the home. There is so much love, excitement and hope for the future. At the same time, it’s not easy. New parents have to navigate sleeping patterns, hormonal changes and sometimes conflicting advice on how best to manage these first weeks and months. 

If during this very intense, emotional period, you notice that your baby’s head shape does not look the way it should, it can really throw off a new parent. 

No issue is more emotional than your child’s wellbeing, and when faced with the unknown it’s hard to know how worried to be, or what to do. 

This blog gives some guidance for parents who have noticed their child’s head shape is unusual and outlines some of the steps they want to take.

Is it a medical problem?

A head shape difference is quite common, with most of us having some asymmetry. When the difference is more distinct, it can fall into the category of a medical condition. These conditions encompass a variety of baby head shapes of different severities. 

These medical terms describe the most common differences in head shapes;

  • Plagiocephaly means that there’s an asymmetry between the left and right sides of the head.
  • Brachycephaly means that the head is wider than normal in relation to the front-to-back length. 

Explore more about different types of head abnormalities.

Most babies with an irregular head shape have a combination of plagiocephaly and brachycephaly.

If you suspect your baby might be among them, neither they nor you, are alone. About one in thirty infants has a very significant and obvious difference in their head shape. These are the babies that will benefit from taking steps to help resolve the difference. Asymmetries can be resolved if action is taken early enough.

Don’t blame yourselves

Parents, especially new mums, are prone to beating themselves up. It’s important to remind yourselves that this isn’t your fault and there is no blame here.  

Babies' skulls are soft and malleable. This means that during childbirth or when babies lie in the same position for long periods regularly, their heads can flatten. 

This shouldn’t be a cause of guilt or shame. Often when children develop these asymmetries, parents have followed very important advice, always placing their babies to sleep on their back to reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). 

It’s very important to continue placing your baby on their back to sleep. It can just mean that some babies just start to develop a flattening. Then, if your baby continues to sleep in exactly the same position, this can progress quite quickly.  

Simple steps you can take

If your child is under 4-5 months old and too small to roll around independently, it can help to reposition them during the day when they are awake. You can see our repositioning guide for more information about this. 

If your baby isn’t able to turn their head fully in both directions, the issue might be a tight muscle on one side of the neck. This is called torticollis and a physiotherapist or osteopath can help resolve this.   

If these strategies aren’t improving the head shape, then our clinicians at Technology in Motion can help by providing treatment.

The different roads to reaching out for help

Parents who come to see us bring many stories of their journey to actually finding help. 

  • “My Mum first mentioned it and I didn’t notice it until she did.”
  • “It was only when I looked back at the photos that I noticed my baby was always looking to one side.”
  • “My health visitor/midwife said it would self-correct when he’s older but it didn’t for my other child.”
  • “I have a flat head shape and I didn’t want my baby to grow up with one.
  • "My doctor said that it’s ‘only’ cosmetic but I think that cosmetic appearance is important.”
  • “I don’t want him/her to be bullied at school. Children can be cruel.”
  • “How will he wear a cycle helmet or hard hat?”
  • “They said that hair will cover it but what if he goes bald or wants short hair?”
  • “How am I going to get bunches to look even on her?”
  • “I thought that it looked a bit odd but everyone said that he/she’s lovely and not to worry.”

Parents can feel guilt, but they shouldn’t. These emotions are natural and part of wanting the best for your child. 

Some conditions are more severe than others and pose greater risks to a child’s well-being. When doctors say that it’s nothing to worry about, what they mean is that it’s a self-limiting and not a life-threatening issue. The same can be said for uneven teeth and in fact, a head shape variance can be looked at in a very similar way. However, the difference is that in order to resolve irregularities in head shape, parents have to make decisions on this very early in life on their baby’s behalf.

Advice for parents going through this

How do the parents that we see cope with these issues? When it comes to our children, it’s too easy to catastrophise and Dr Google is great at making things worse. 

To relieve your concerns you need to share your experience and find good advice, which can be difficult to do.

  • Speak to friends, and chat with other mums at baby groups, coffee mornings or meet-ups.
  • There are many online or local support groups to help connect with others facing similar challenges.  The TiMbandAir Plagiocephaly Treatment group is one such community that can help.
  • Seek professional guidance. Ask your health visitor or GP but recognise that they are not always able to give full and open information.
  • Talk with your partner, parents, siblings and other close family members. They’re just as invested as you are in the welfare of your little one. Open communication is vital not just for this but for many areas of healthy mental attitude.
  • Growth and development is a journey, not an event, whether or not your baby is in treatment, take pictures from all angles and look back at progress. Look at progress recognising that perfection might not be achievable. Every small improvement counts.
  • There is joy in celebrating each of your child's achievements.
  • Look after yourself. If you’re in good form, you can be a better support for your child.

How does the TiMbandAir come into this?

If your baby does have a severe head shape variance and it’s not improving on its own then you might opt to take up treatment using a TiMbandAir helmet or, if there’s a craniosynostosis then using a helmet can be an option after surgery. 

This can be scary if you don’t know what to expect. TiMbandAir helmets are medical devices, and as items which are worn by the baby, they’re known as orthoses. Other orthoses that you might have come across are insoles to help with walking, teeth braces, neck collars, or hip braces for infants who have clicky hips. They’re commonly used and helmets are just one more type which is used for a relatively short period but will give life-long improvements.

We use head growth to bring about correction (we don’t squash the head) and our heads grow a lot in the first few months of life. Earlier is better because growth is rapid and the structures are relatively flexible. 4 to 7 months is the ideal age to start but we can start a treatment up to the age of 14 months. 

At your appointment, we’ll take a scan and if you want to go ahead with treatment, 
we’ll take a deposit and see you in 2 weeks’ time to fit the helmet which will have the corrected shape and growth room built in. Then we’ll see you regularly during the time that your baby is wearing it and when it’s outgrown and the shape has corrected, you’re done. 

Each child that we see is different, some take a little longer, and some make rapid progress, either way, your child is unique and they’ll not be troubled at all by the treatment. From experience, we do know that it can be difficult for mum especially. But you’re doing the best for your baby and this is just another part of life’s journey. Your baby will grow and respond as normal and will continue to develop and build character normally, this is just something else that they have to wear for a short time.

Essential coping strategies for parents

Navigating the early weeks and months of parenthood can be a challenging yet magical journey. However, the unexpected discovery of an irregular head shape in your baby can be emotionally overwhelming. 

It's crucial to remember that such concerns do not equate to blame or guilt. Your child's head shape can be influenced by various factors, such as positioning during sleep, and it's not your fault. Babies' skulls are malleable, and these asymmetries are common.

Here are some essential coping strategies for parents:

1. Share your experiences and seek advice from friends, family, and support groups.
2. Consult healthcare professionals for guidance
3. Keep an open line of communication with your loved ones.
4. Document your child's progress and celebrate each small improvement.
5. Prioritise self-care to be the best support for your child.

If your baby's head shape condition is more severe and doesn't improve naturally, you might consider treatment with a TiMbandAir helmet. This can initially be intimidating, but it's a short-term intervention that leads to lifelong improvements in head shape.

In your journey, remember that your child is unique, and this treatment is just a temporary phase. They will continue to grow, develop, and build their character normally. You're doing your best for your baby.

For additional support and guidance, consider following our Facebook page or other local support communities. There's hope in the progress your child will make, and you're not alone in this journey. 

You are a caring and dedicated parent, and your love and efforts will make a positive difference in your child's life.