what is flat head syndrome

What is Flat Head Syndrome?

What is Flat Head Syndrome?

Flat head syndrome is a condition where part of a baby’s head becomes flattened or deformed. It is caused by continuously applied pressure to one spot on a baby’s head, such as lying in a cot for too long. Flat head syndrome can materialize in two ways, Plagiocephaly or Brachycephaly.

Plagiocephaly: a deformation of the head marked by an oblique slant to the skull surface, usually the side of the head, which in severe cases can also result in facial, cheek, jaw and ear asymmetry. The most common form is called positional plagiocephaly. The flattening usually occurs in the parietal region, above and behind the ear. Facial asymmetry may be apparent in the forehead region and the eyes and ears may also be misaligned.

Brachycephaly: occurs when a baby has a wider than normal head with the flattening across the back of the skull. The width of the head is often disproportionate to the depth of the baby’s head. It is quite usual to see a combination of brachycephaly and plagiocephaly, presenting as a wide, asymmetric head shape.

Causes of Flat Head Syndrome

Due to the fact their heads remain soft and pliable through the earliest stages of their life flat head syndrome in babies can be quite common. This pliability of the skull is because the several plates of bone which fuse the skull together are initially loose, gradually joining as your baby gets older.

Deformities can also occur before your baby is born, this is called positional moulding. The re-moulding of the skull may occur in the uterus due to restricted space in the womb. This frequently occurs in multiple births (i.e. twins or triplets) or those requiring assisted delivery (intrapartum moulding). Deformities can also occurring during birth, as the baby travels through the birth canal. Passage through the birth canal can cause temporary cranial deformity and it is common for the baby to have an oddly shaped during the first few days or weeks after birth. The majority of such deformities improve naturally during the early months of an infant’s life without any need for treatment. The exception occurs when the infant is consistently positioned in a way that exerts pressure on one particular area of the head, turning a minor plagiocephalic deformity into a potential long-term problem requiring treatment. The incidence of flat head syndrome is higher in infants born prematurely as their heads tend to be softer and more prone to moulding.

Paediatricians have reported a sharp increase in the number of children with cranial deformities in recent years, particularly unilateral flattening of the occipital bone at the back of the head. This is generally attributed to the back to sleep campaign, which has dramatically reduced the incidence of cot death or SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) but also left many babies with permanent head shape deformities.

Parents should always place their babies on their backs when sleeping. However, during the day when the infant is awake and the parent is with them, they should spend at least half of their waking hours without pressure on the back of the skull to allow it to reshape naturally. If no improvement is seen by the age of five months, flat head syndrome treatment may be worth considering.

What Happens If You Don’t Treat Flat Head Syndrome? 

Mild flat head syndrome has been known to correct itself if the parent/caregiver follows re-positioning guidelines, making sure the infant isn’t lying in the same spot on their head for long periods of time. However, with the more severe cases of flat head syndrome the skull can often be extremely difficult to reshape without the use of a baby helmet.

The NHS believe that flat head syndrome does not have an effect on brain function, however some studies have argued that there is a correlation between severe cases of flat head syndrome and physical and developmental health issues. A mildly misshapen head is not a cause of concern for brain development in babies. However, if the head-shape does not correct itself it can be harmful to psychological well-being later on in life. It can also make activities that require wearing a helmet troublesome. We have more details on all the treatment options available to you here.