What is Brachycephaly and How is it Treated?

August 8, 2018

deformational brachycephaly head shape chart - flat head syndrome

Brachycephaly is a condition found in babies and infants and is characterised by a flattened area at the back of the skull. If your baby has brachycephaly, you will notice at around eight weeks of age that your baby’s head seems wider than expected, the ears seem to be pushed outwards. In some cases, there will be a slight bulging on the forehead and your baby might have a wide brow. The head is often high at the back and the back of the head can look totally flattened with no rounding towards the neck. Brachycephaly is a form of flat head syndrome, it can often be found in combination with plagiocephaly and is caused by lying supine for extended periods of time in a cot.

For more information on brachycephaly and the key differences and similarities the condition has with plagiocephaly, read our earlier blog post explaining what is plagiocephaly and brachycephaly and how the terms tie in with flat head syndrome.

What Causes Brachycephaly?

Brachycephaly develops when the natural growth of a baby’s head meets pressure which inhibits that growth. During early infancy, a baby’s skull is still soft enough to be moulded by these external pressures and it can affect the shape of the skull. This can be either prenatally in the mother’s womb, or because the baby’s head is exposed to a flat surface for an extended period of time. The most common causes of brachycephaly are:

Pressure during sleep: Babies are born with a soft, pliable skull which continues to develop during infancy. A flattening of the skull can occur if your baby becomes used to sleeping in one single position every night. As the flattened area develops, your baby may become accustomed to that particular position, enhancing the flattening further, or their head may naturally roll into that position.

We fully endorse the very successful ‘Back to Sleep’ campaign and do not recommend that parents stop placing their babies on the back to sleep. Since this policy has been adopted, the numbers of babies who have suffered cot death has dramatically reduced and we fully recommend all parents to place their baby on the back to sleep.

Large head size: Some babies just have larger head sizes than others and the muscles of a very young baby simply are not able to move the head away from a flattened position.

Prenatal and moulding during birth: A baby could be born with a brachycephaly head shape due to positioning in the womb or descent into the birth canal. We often see babies who have been in the back to back position prenatally.

Baby with brachycephaly head shape

Hdyramniosis (low amniotic fluid level). When the mother’s amniotic sac doesn’t contain enough fluid there is also less cushioning in the womb or if there are multiples (such as twins) causing ‘crowding’ within the uterus, the prenatal environment may place excess pressure on the baby’s skull.

Brachycephaly Treatment

Following a professional diagnosis and consultation, the brachycephaly treatment we offer will depend on the age of your baby and severity of the condition. If we do recommend the TiMband helmet to treat your baby’s brachycephaly, the helmet works with your baby’s natural skull growth to bring about a permanent correction. They are most effective when started between four and seven months of age, but we will start a treatment up to 14 months of age.

Read a personal journey of brachycephaly from a mum whose baby was suffering from severe brachycephaly. Describing the great results baby Harry achieved through brachycephaly treatment, Steve Mottram, Managing Director of Technology in Motion summarised Harry’s case as “very common, hearing similar accounts from many of the parents that we see. Many parents are not given a diagnosis, information on treatment or even advice on repositioning, which is often successful if the plagiocephaly or brachycephaly is caught early on”.

We would always recommend repositioning techniques for your baby to prevent brachycephaly. Repositioning techniques can help remove pressure from your baby’s head so that it can return to a more normal shape. Our repositioning advice includes:

Tummy Time: This gives your baby time during the day to play on their front, encouraging them to try new positions during play time. Read our top tips on how to make tummy time and repositioning easier for your baby. It’s important to remember to place your baby to sleep on their back at night, as this will help minimise the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).

Moving Toys and Mobiles: Using toys and mobiles in your baby’s cot is a great form of entertainment and a sleeping aid for your little one at night. However, if you keep their toys and mobiles in the same position night after night, your baby will get used to one single position. Change the position of the toys and mobiles to encourage your baby to turn their head and reduce pressure and flatness on a specific side of the head.

Brachycephaly head shape - the back of the head is flat

Alternate Positions: When you feed or carry your baby try to alternate the side you do so and where convenient, introduce a sling instead of a car seat or pram to help keep your baby as mobile as possible.

Cushions and pillows: There are some cushions and pillows available which can help to reduce the incidence of developing a brachycephaly but these must be used with care. We also find that once a baby is able to roll independently they become redundant as the baby starts to sleep on the side or front.

If you are concerned about your baby’s head shape and want more information and a professional diagnosis, call 0330 100 1800. Or fill in our contact form to book a free appointment at your nearest clinic and we’ll advise you on the best possible course of action to take for you and your baby.