Plagiocephaly Support Presentation: Information for Parents

May 22, 2017

Parents are often left in the dark about treatment options that are available to them for Plagiocephaly. We have created a plagiocephaly presentation that aims to provide parents, carers and healthcare professionals with the basic information they need in order to correct this common condition before it becomes severe. As well as this, providing a detailed summary of the presentation.

View our plagiocephaly presentation below, or find us on SlideShare.

What is Plagiocephaly?

Plagiocephaly is a type of flat head syndrome that is characterised by an asymmetric head shape deformity occurring in early infancy. This condition affects as many as one in two babies, and often occurs when a baby spends a prolonged period of time in one position.

Causes of Plagiocephaly

The skull is made up of several plates of bone, which are separate during infancy and become fused together as babies develop. As a baby, the skull is soft and therefore susceptible to a change in shape as a result of continual pressure to certain areas.

Some babies display birth moulding immediately after birth, as a result of pressure from the uterus and birth canal. This usually corrects itself in the first few days of life.

Signs and Symptoms of Plagiocephaly

Parents usually notice when their baby develops a flat area on the back or side of their head, or if they display a misalignment of the ears and other facial asymmetry.

Additionally, some parents may notice that their baby tends to look in one particular direction. If this is the case, the baby may be suffering from torticollis. Torticollis is a Latin word that means twisted neck. In the case of torticollis, the neck muscles may be tighter on the one side than on the other, making it hard for the baby to turn their head from left to right. This is usually pain-free but restrictive, and so therapy is usually required to ease out the muscles in the neck.

Preventing Plagiocephaly

The majority of plagiocephaly cases can be prevented or treated using repositioning techniques. There are a number of these techniques to try, all of which involve taking pressure away from the back of the baby’s head whilst sleeping and awake.

Plagiocephaly has become more common since the 1994 ‘back to sleep’ campaign, whereby awareness was raised to reduce the occurrence of the tragic Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). The campaign was extremely successful, reducing SIDS by more than 60%. However, with this came an unexpected prevalence in plagiocephaly, as infants sleeping on their backs had an exclusive pressure to either the back or side of their head.

Babies should always be placed on their back when sleeping, but there are a few ways of manipulating the head position whilst the baby is asleep. This repositioning should be done as soon as parents notice a flattening of the baby’s head, which is usually around 8 weeks of age.

Repositioning During Sleep

Repositioning techniques are the best early intervention for Plagiocephaly, and allows you to alternate the way that your baby faces when sleeping. Simply turning the baby’s head in your hands is an effective way of changing the head position.

Alternatively, encouraging your baby to actively move their head can be done through moving objects of interest, such as toys. This is a good way of ensuring that your baby isn’t getting exclusive pressure to one area of the head.

Alternating the end of the cot that you place your baby in to sleep encourages your baby to move their head. Furthermore, rotating the cot or crib around can also encourage your baby to change their head position.

Babies who suck their thumb at night tend to suck one in particular, and this affects the way they rest their head. Try covering the thumb to encourage them to suck the other thumb and rest their head differently.

Repositioning When Awake

‘Tummy time’ is an effective way of changing your baby’s position during the day. Because they cannot lie on their front when sleeping, you can instead make sure that your baby has some time to play on their tummy during the day, reducing pressure to the back of their head. This is also a great form of exercise and helps to develop the hips and spine.

Another repositioning technique involves the position of which you feed your baby. If you are feeding your baby from a bottle, alternating the side you feed them from can be beneficial.

Using a carry sling allows babies to spend time upright rather than leaning or lying on something that puts pressure to the back of the head.

When you are not travelling, avoid keeping your baby in a car seat or buggy. There are several seats on the market that allow babies older than 4 months to sit without any pressure being applied to the back of their head.

Repositioning When Holding Your Baby

Making sure that you hold your baby correctly is important. When you are sitting, try not to let your baby sit with their back against you. Although this is a naturally easy and comfortable position, it does not encourage strength to develop in the neck. Instead try sitting them across your leg with them leaning slightly forward, with your arms around their body.

All of these methods can help to make a huge difference in reducing plagiocephaly and developing important spine and neck control. If your baby is not experiencing any improvements by 5 months of age, it is recommended that parents book an appointment with us and look into cranial remoulding treatment.

Our repositioning guide offers a more detailed look into how to utilise repositioning techniques in preventing or reducing plagiocephaly

Treating Plagiocephaly

Repositioning is such an effective method that it can reduce the signs of plagiocephaly in up to 95% of cases. However, a plagiocephaly helmet can be the best treatment if repositioning alone has not made a difference by the time the baby is 4-5 months old, and if the case is moderate to severe. The plagiocephaly helmet is a type of advanced cranial remoulding treatment.

Cranial Helmets

This effective treatment involves a helmet being custom-made based on a safe photographic 3D  scan of the baby’s head, making it an exact model of the baby’s head shape.

The helmet exerts minimal pressure to the head, bringing about a pain-free and gentle correction to the baby’s head shape, encouraging it to return to its normal shape. Throughout treatment, the baby’s helmet will be adjusted to accommodate growth and maintain comfort.

Unfortunately, this form of treatment is not available on the NHS. For those that decide to proceed with the treatment, the cost is £2,000 and covers all appointments as well as the helmet, reviews, final scan, and memory stick containing before and after scans.

For those who need financial support, there are a number of charities that can help to raise funds for this treatment, such as Tree of Hope and Headstart4Babies.

Plagiocephaly research has assessed the effectiveness of helmet treatment compared to repositioning techniques, finding that helmets show a superior improvement. If your baby’s head shape is not improving with repositioning techniques, helmet treatment may be an effective option for you to explore.

Treatment is only suitable for babies between 4 and 14 months. Above 14 months, the skull starts to fuse and harden, meaning that it cannot be re-moulded. Depending on the individual, treatment usually lasts between 3 to 6 months, but this varies. If caught at the right time, a cranial helmet can make significant improvements to a baby’s head shape. If a baby is older than 14 months, only surgery can be used to correct the head shape, and this is only recommended in very severe cases.

Advice for Parents and Carers

The sooner that measures are taken to reduce plagiocephaly, such as repositioning, the better the result will be. If you notice a flattened area of your baby’s head, begin repositioning straight away.

If repositioning does not make a difference by the age of 4-5 months, we recommend that you contact your local plagiocephaly clinic and book an appointment. A plagiocephaly specialist will assess whether your baby could benefit from cranial helmet treatment. If you would like to read some success stories of our helmet treatment for plagiocephaly, read through our selection of case studies