Flat or unusually-shaped heads in babies is something that is commonly seen in paediatric osteopathic practice. The medical terms cover a whole range of head shapes, but the most common term used is ‘plagiocephaly’.
What causes ‘flat head syndrome’?
There are many things that can cause flattened or unusual head shapes. If it is something you have noticed since the birth of your baby, it may be due to the position in which your baby was growing within your uterus or it may be a result of trauma during birth. Babies that are relatively big or that engaged early in the third trimester can often have extra pressure placed on their growing head, which causes asymmetries.
If there was a struggle during the birth and instruments such as forceps or a ventouse were used, then these too can cause moulding of a baby’s head. Flat heads can also develop after birth if your baby favours one particular position when lying down. This may develop out of habit, possibly linked with your baby’s lye within your uterus, or if there is stiffness within your baby’s neck or shoulders.
Why does Flat Head Syndrome matter?
‘Flat head syndrome’ most commonly causes cosmetic issues that parents wish to resolve. However, the head develops its shape due to the growth of the underlying brain so it can lead to more serious complications. In the more severe cases of this syndrome, the areas of the head that are unable to expand and grow as they normally would have the potential to effect and influence the growth and development of the underlying brain.
What should I look out for with Flat head syndrome?
As a parent, the first thing that you may notice is that your baby has a preference for looking and lying with their head to a certain side. If this is due to stiffness within the neck or shoulders, you may also have noticed that the neck appeared to be ‘strong’ within the first few weeks of life. At this stage of development, it is normal for babies to have very little control over the movement within their neck and so the appearance of being able to hold their head up can actually be a sign that there is some tension being held within the neck.
You may also notice the flattening itself, most commonly directly at the back of the head or slightly off to one side. Looking at a baby’s head from a bird’s eye point of view often gives a good idea of head shape, and asymmetries can also be seen within the eyes and ears in some cases.
How can osteopathy help Flat head Syndrome?
As osteopaths, we will complete a thorough examination of your baby to assess its neurological development as well as the physical range of development. Treatment will be designed to ensure your baby has a full range of motion available within its spine, particularly the neck, and that there is no tension held within the head that may restrict its growth. All treatment is very gentle, using techniques suitable for your baby’s particular needs.
Education and advice will also be given to parents, when needed, in order to aid improvement of the condition and reduce the chance of reoccurrence. In more severe cases, there are other referral options we have, such as the London Orthotic Consultancy, who prescribe helmets to help to re-mould the head.