In the early 1990s advice was issued for parents to place their babies to sleep only on their backs. This recommendation was introduced by the American Academy of Pediatrics as babies who sleep on their backs have been proven to be less likely to die from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. I’ll write another article explaining all about SIDS soon but it’s just important to highlight why we are correctly advised to place babies to sleep on their backs when we are discussing flat head syndrome.
Flat head syndrome is quite common, it affects approximately one in five babies. It describes the development of a flattened area on a babies head. There are two main types known as plagiocephaly and brachycephaly. Plagiocephaly is when the side of your babies head is effected and it can impact the alignment of a babies ears. Brachycephaly is when the back of your babies head is affected and becomes flattened. This can cause your babies head to appear wider also.
Whilst this sounds very scary I would just like to point out at an early stage that most cases of flat head syndrome pose no cause for concern and with time and good advice on how to manage it, it will barely be noticeable at all by the time they are two years of age. Even severe cases will get better over time. The small amount of flattening which may remain after two years of age in severe cases will be hardly noticeable as your baby’s hair grows and their features form. Obviously if you are concerned at all visit your GP to discuss it.
What causes flat head?
The reason I mentioned SIDS earlier is because I want to reiterate the importance of a baby being placed to sleep on their back at a young age. However I cannot say that a baby sleeping on their back all of the time does not worsen flat head syndrome – it of course does – however I personally would rather stick to the SIDS advice and use other techniques to reduce flat head in my children because at least then I will know they are safer whilst they sleep.
Other reasons why your baby may have a flattened area on their head include:
- premature birth – Due to the softer developing skull and their lack of ability to move position.
- Womb factors – Your baby may have been sitting in an awkward or tight position in the womb which may have contributed to a flattened area. A low level of amniotic fluid can also contribute as there is less cushioning for the baby.
- Muscle problems – If your baby has any tight muscles in their neck they may be less inclined or able to move position which can result in a flattened area developing on the area they use to take the pressure.
- Craniosynostosis – this rare condition involves the premature fusion of sections of the skull. This would be diagnosed after examination from your doctor or GP.
What should you do?
Firstly I would discuss it with the GP or doctor so they can examine your child’s head thoroughly and offer you reassurance that there is nothing sinister going on. They could also examine your child’s neck movements etc to ensure there is nothing causing your child to prefer one position over another.
As your child gets older they will develop strength to hold their head up, roll, crawl and explore! This will all help to prevent pressure being applied to one spot on your child’s head. But even before your child develops their own super powers there are a few little ways that you can help to reduce the development of flat head syndrome:
- Tummy time! The dreaded tummy time – some babies love it – many babies hate it – but all of them need it! From the very early days it is a good idea to lay your baby gently down on their tummy during wake time for short periods. Follow your babies lead and see how long they are comfortable to be in that position. I found lying down beside them chatting and singing or showing them interesting objects helped them to enjoy tummy time more! I love this play mat as it has a soft little cushion the right shape to help prop them up so that they can reach for little toys and distractions you lay before them! All of this tummy time will help to strengthen their neck and shoulder muscles so that your child will be able to control their own movements more and thus reduce the development of flat head syndrome.
- Change your babies position frequently whilst they are awake. Just because they should sleep on their backs does not mean they should remain on them the rest of the time so consider wearing them in a sling, sitting them in a bouncer or sloping chair, holding them yourself or letting anyone else who wants some precious lovely baby snuggles!
- Change the position and side that you feed your baby in.
- Use toys like mobiles to distract their gaze when you do need to leave them on a flat surface on their backs (god forbid u need to pee!!) and change the position of the toys regularly so that they are gazing in different directions.
- Change the position of the cot or moses basket when you can to give your curious little WonderBaba different ways to look at things which encourages head movement.
- When you baby is asleep you can gently try to change the position of his or her head if they favour one side – but you do this at risk of waking the baby. This contradicts rule one in the parenting book that I some day aspire to write – never ever ever wake the baby!!!
- Try not to let them sleep or sit in the car seat or bouncer for longer than necessary.
- Generally pillows are a no no in babies cots due to the risk of SIDS, ClevaMama have however developed one specifically for babies which is lightweight, breathable and reduces heat retention. If you fear your baby may be developing a flat head this may be an option. I used it on my little fella and it definitely helped. They developed it with Trinity College Dublin and have proven it reduces the pressure on the back of your baby’s head by 50%.
- I’d just like to add that whilst I’m recommending these two ClevaMama products – I have not been asked or approached to promote them – this is not an advert – this is my own personal findings and these are two products I genuinely really love and I feel they compliment my professional advice as a Pharmacist and so I began stocking them in my pharmacy. Both the Clevatummy Play mat and the Supporting baby pillow are available here.
I hope you have found this article helpful and if you have any questions at all please don’t hesitate to contact me by sending a private message to the WonderBaba facebook page (www.facebook.com/wonderbabacare) or by calling me (Sheena) at Milltown totalhealth Pharmacy in Dublin 6 on 012600262. I’m always happy to help!