Baby Head Shapes: What’s Normal and What Isn’t?
Many of the parents who come to see us are anxious about the shapes of their babies’ heads. We are often asked things like ‘what should a baby’s head look like?’ and ‘how severe a flattening is too severe?’, so we thought we might put a few minds at rest by answering some of these questions here.
Many babies are born with slightly uneven head shapes or develop a flattening during the first few months of life as a result of pressure on the back and side of the head. If noticed early enough, this flattening can round out over time provided you reposition your baby, so they are not always a cause for concern.
However, if the flattening seems severe or is refusing to budge by the time the baby is four or five months old, despite repositioning, additional intervention may be required to return the head to a normal, symmetrical shape.
How to Check a Baby’s Head Shape
Look down at your baby’s head from above. Does it look flatter on one side than on the other? Does the cheekbone on the flat side protrude? Does the ear on the flat side look like it’s being pushed forward?
If you answered ‘yes’ to any of the above questions, it’s likely that your baby has plagiocephaly, the most common type of flat head syndrome. If the back of the head looks disproportionately tall and/or wide, your baby may have another kind of flat head syndrome known as brachycephaly.
As the above diagrams demonstrate, plagiocephaly and brachycephaly vary greatly in severity. Some babies only have a mild flattening, whilst for others the flat spot is far more noticeable and may be combined with secondary misalignment of the brow, ears and jaw. The more prominent the deformity, the less likely it is to go away by itself.
What to Do About an Abnormal Head Shape
If your baby is less than four months old, you should start repositioning as soon as you notice a flat spot. In fact, even if there is no noticeable flattening, repositioning is still recommended to help minimise the risk of a plagiocephaly or brachycephaly developing.
This means making sure your baby has plenty of supervised tummy time whilst awake and spends as little time as possible in hard-backed seats, such as those found in buggies, Moses baskets and car seats. Carry your baby in your arms or a sling instead where possible, taking care not to place too much pressure on the back of the head.
Your baby should always sleep on the back to minimise the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. However, you can subtly manipulate the position of the head by encouraging him/her to face in alternating directions as (s)he falls asleep. For example, try rotating the cot through 180 degrees or moving toys and other objects of interest around from one night to the next.
If your baby’s head is still noticeably misshapen at three to six months, additional measures may need to be taken in order to return the head to a normal shape. At this stage, babies begin to move around more independently and the scope for what can be achieved through repositioning becomes very limited.
The preferred treatment for more significant cases of moderate and severe flat head syndrome is known as helmet therapy or cranial remoulding. This involves wearing a custom made helmet over a period of three to six months to gradually mould the soft bones of the skull into a more symmetrical shape.
As scary as it may sound, helmet therapy is a completely safe and pain-free treatment with no harmful side effects, provided you choose a reputable clinic and comply fully with the instructions that are given to you by your clinician.
Professional Assessment for Babies with Flat Head Syndrome
If your baby has a flat head and repositioning has failed to make the difference that you had hoped for, Technology in Motion can provide you with a free, no-obligation assessment to help you decide whether or not a helmet might be beneficial.
Using sophisticated 3D scanning technology, we will take three sets of measurements to help us gauge the type and severity of the deformity. If any of these deviate significantly from the normal head measurements for infants, helmet therapy is likely to be recommended.
We should point out at this stage that whilst we are happy to advise you on the treatment options that are available, we won’t pressure you into making a decision either way. Ultimately, you know what’s right for your baby and it is not our place to interfere with your natural instincts as a parent.
However, one thing that we must make clear is that the window of opportunity for treatment is narrow. Once infants reach 14 months of age, the bones in the skull begin to harden and any remaining deformity becomes irreversible except through surgery, which is only recommended in very rare cases.
So no matter where you are in the decision process, it’s worth booking an appointment sooner rather than later to get an expert’s opinion on your baby’s head shape. Call 0330 100 1800 to book an appointment at your nearest Technology in Motion clinic, or browse our website and blog for further information, advice and tips on flat head syndrome and helmet therapy.