As the number of enquiries from adults and parents with older children regarding plagiocephaly treatment continues to increase, we are left with the difficult task of informing adults that we are unable to help infants who have plagiocephaly after 14 months of age. In our ongoing pursuit to offer parents and carers a wealth of advice, information and research on plagiocephaly, we are addressing one of the biggest questions parents ask us on a daily basis…
What happens if you don’t treat plagiocephaly?
According to official NHS advice, untreated plagiocephaly will “usually improve” over time and advise parents that “your baby’s head may not return to a completely perfect shape, but by the time they’re one or two years old any flattening will be barely noticeable”.
Plagiocephaly can correct itself without the need for treatment as long as the deformity is mild and it is detected at the earliest opportunity. When your baby is around 8 weeks old, you may notice that they have started to develop a flattening on the head. Providing it is introduced early enough, we will always recommend repositioning to discourage your baby from resting on the flattening whilst asleep and during playtime throughout the day.
Repositioning techniques also help to develop baby’s motor skills and protect against plagiocephaly. Our repositioning guide offers top tips from parents and guidance from the experts on how to use repositioning to improve your baby’s head shape naturally without the need for treatment.
However, as babies become older and they begin to move more independently, the success of repositioning becomes increasingly limited. Significant correction without the need for treatment will only happen in the first few months of a baby’s life whilst the skull structure is still soft and the joints between the bones are more flexible and open.
Moderate and severe plagiocephaly will not benefit from repositioning and this will require other forms of plagiocephaly treatment such as the TiMBand. Once a baby reaches the age of 14 months, the bones in the skull have hardened and the growth rate slows dramatically. This is why we do not offer any form of plagiocephaly treatment after 14 months as the results become significantly less successful.
For more information on the ideal age to treat plagiocephaly and the results you can expect to achieve with a plagiocephaly helmet, this blog post offers further advice on the recommended window of treatment for babies with plagiocephaly.
What are the long-term effects of plagiocephaly?
In recent years, more research has appeared surrounding plagiocephaly and its long-term effects. These can include its physical, developmental and psychological impact, which can become more apparent as infants age.
1. Developmental Delays
A study investigating the development in toddlers with and without deformational plagiocephaly (DP) found that toddlers with DP scored lower on all sections of the Bayley Scales of Infant and Toddler Development, Third Edition when compared with unaffected, demographically similar toddlers. Although this study did not establish a causal relationship, it does indicate a need for greater developmental surveillance.
2. Practical Difficulties
Practical difficulties in sport and everyday life can affect adults with plagiocephaly. An adult with plagiocephaly will be unable to wear many types of protective headwear for sports such as cycling and rock climbing. This is because most types of helmets and headgear are manufactured based on a ‘normal’ head shape. If the deformity is severe and there is significant misalignment of the ears, adults could even face difficulties wearing glasses on a day to day basis.
Aside from sporting activities, adults may also find it difficult to enter into their chosen profession (such as construction, emergency services and the armed forces) if that career requires standard head protection.
Whilst more and more research into plagiocephaly is being published online and awareness of plagiocephaly is on the rise, healthcare professionals continue to adhere to the official NHS guidelines which still means many babies are being left with preventable head shape deformities.
3. Psychological Impact
Untreated plagiocephaly may have a psychological impact later in life. A misshapen head brings a number of psychosocial concerns and emotional difficulties which a person may face throughout school and into adulthood. Research has shown that people with symmetrical features are considered more attractive than those with asymmetrical features. Even if we ignore this research and discourage these automatic responses, there may still be peers, teachers and other adults who could react negatively to an abnormality which can result in teasing and even bullying in some cases.
Many older children, teenagers and adults who contact us feel that they have been let down by their doctors and the lack of advice and support they were offered. NHS advice goes on to say that “as your child becomes more mobile and their hair grows, the appearance of their head should improve”.
However, longer hair doesn’t improve a head shape but rather attempts to conceal the deformity. This is particularly difficult for men with plagiocephaly as shorter, cropped styles will highlight a misshapen head even more. Adults who are conscious of their head shape are unable to wear certain hairstyles as they opt to conceal the deformity as best they can. The low self-esteem and lack of confidence in their appearance has a significant impact on their ability to socialise.
Finally, comments from one of our parents with an older child in treatment are:
I’ve been to see my little boys paediatrician today (again) about his head shape. She commented, ‘Wow it looks so much better than it did when I last saw you in February!’ I told her it was because of my son’s helmet. She asked, ‘So do you think it’s working?’
Well obviously!! Enough rubbish about ‘It’ll get right in time’ or ‘Reposition them whilst sleeping’ or all these fancy pillows that you spend a fortune on. None of it works, believe me we’ve tried it all! But 2 months with a TiMband and you can see a difference!
For more information about what happens if you don’t treat plagiocephaly, our recent blog post takes a more detailed look at incidences of plagiocephaly in adults and offers advice on effective treatment for your baby.
We always advise that you trust your parental instincts and if you are concerned about your baby’s head shape, book a free consultation with one of our orthotic specialists. We offer a no-obligation assessment at your nearest clinic to see if your baby could benefit from a helmet to help you make the most informed decision for you and your baby.
If you would like to know more about the treatment options for plagiocephaly, call Technology in Motion on 0113 218 8030 and speak to a specialist and we will answer any questions you might have.