At birth, your baby’s skull is soft and malleable. This allows his brain to continue developing and this in turn, makes his head grow in size with the rest of his body. Because of this softness and adaptability, your baby’s head may become flat on one side if there is excessive pressure on that side. This flatness occurs mostly at the back of the head because most babies sleep on that side most of the time.
In rare cases, some babies are born with Plagiocephaly, most probably due to pressure on the head during vaginal birth or within the womb. A flat head is very rarely a sign of an abnormality in the brain, however, a discussion with your paediatrician would help clear the air.
While this condition is harmless and self-limiting, it may be unsightly and distressing to new parents. Here are some tips on how to prevent or manage the condition…
1. Change your baby’s sleeping position from time to time. Switch from back to sides, but avoid the face-down position as this has been shown to be a risk for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
2. Carry your baby more often. Placing your baby in his cradle, rocker or car seat may seem more convenient, but overdoing it may increase his chances of getting a flat head. Try holding your baby more, strap him to your back or use a baby carrier. Seek help and support if you feel overwhelmed.
3. Use pillows to cushion the effect of the pressure. There are nursing pillows designed to support your baby’s head while he sleeps. These can also be used as cushion on hard beds. You can use the pillow to stabilize and keep his head away from the flat position until you’re ready to switch sides again. Be careful though. Do not leave him unattended for too long. Use of soft pillows and stuffed animals around your baby’s sleeping area could increase his risk of SIDS.
4. Let him get enough tummy time. Again, do not leave your baby unattended while he is awake. Sleeping on the tummy is a NO-NO. But when he is awake, let him lie on his tummy from time to time as this will take the pressure off the head while the tummy, back and neck muscles get some strengthening exercises.
5. If the condition persists, talk to your paediatrician and explore the option of placing an orthotic helmet on the head. This special helmet is designed to reshape the head while reducing the pressure impacted by lying on hard surfaces.
Like I mentioned earlier, flat heads usually resolve on their own – by age 2 – but if you have doubts and concerns, see your doctor for further advice.