Understanding Plagiocephaly

What is plagiocephaly? Does my baby have it?

Sometimes known as “flat head syndrome,” plagiocephaly (pronounced play-jee-oh-sef-uh-lee) is a relatively common condition where an infant develops a flat spot on the back or side of the head. Many factors can cause flat spots. A baby’s skull is very soft and pressure from everyday surfaces, such as beds or car seats, can cause misshaping. Rest assured, it’s not your fault. The important thing is that you are doing something about it! The good news is that most cases can be treated successfully using supervised tummy time and repositioning techniques  and DOC Band® therapy.

No two cases of plagiocephaly are alike. Throughout our site, you’ll find information to help you better understand your baby’s unique condition and determine the treatment that’s right for your family. Below, we’ll explore what plagiocephaly looks like, so you can start to identify what you may be seeing at home.


What is Normal?

Parents spend so much time with their baby, recognizing an abnormal head shape can sometimes be difficult. We’ve found it can be helpful to see examples of a normal head shape before looking at abnormal ones. Normally, the head is about 1/3 longer than it is wide and rounded at the back. Below are some examples of a normal head shape at three months, six months and nine months old.

Normal Head Shapes – 3 months

normal3mos

Normal Head Shapes – 6 months

normal6mos

Normal Head Shapes – 9 months

normal9mos

What does plagiocephaly look like?

What does plagiocephaly look like?

Though it might sound complicated, the term plagiocephaly literally means “oblique head.” (From Greek: “plagio” meaning oblique and “cephale” meaning head.) In plagiocephaly cases, the head shape resembles a parallelogram from above.

Common Characteristics:

  • Head is flat on one side
  • One ear is more forward than the other
  • One eye is smaller than the other
  • One cheek is fuller than the other
  • Top of the head slopes
  • Head shape resembles a parallelogram from above

Below are some examples of plagiocephaly head shapes, ranging from mild to severe.

plagioshapes
From left to right this shows images of normal, mild, moderate and severe plagiocephaly head shapes.

What does brachycephaly look like?

What does brachycephaly look like?

The term brachycephaly is rooted in Latin, “brachy” meaning short and “cephaly” meaning head. In brachycephaly cases, the back of the head becomes flat, causing an abnormally wide, tall head shape.

Common Characteristics:

  • Head is wider than normal
  • Head is abnormally tall
  • Back of head is flat rather than curved
  • Face appears small relative to the size of the head
  • Widest part of the head is just above the ears
  • Tips of ears protrude
  • Head shape resembles a trapezoid from above

Again, some examples are provided for reference below.

brachyshapes
From left to right this image shows examples of normal, mild, moderate and severe brachycephaly head shapes.

What does brachycephaly with plagiocephaly look like?

What does brachycephaly with plagiocephaly look like?

As you might expect, babies with brachycephaly and plagiocephaly share characteristics of both head shapes. In these cases, the head is abnormally tall and wide and resembles a distorted trapezoid from above.

Common Characteristics:

  • A combination of plagiocephaly and brachycephaly traits
  • Head is wider and taller than normal
  • Forehead is sloped
  • Ears and eyes appear misaligned
  • Head shape resembles a distorted trapezoid from above

Examples of mild, moderate and severe cases of brachycephaly with plagiocephaly are provided below.

 

 

 

 

 

Babies with brachycephaly and plagiocephaly are commonly affected by a neck condition called torticollis, which causes the head to tilt and/or turn to one side. Learn more about torticollis, a condition affecting over 80% of plagiocephaly patients.

What does scaphocephaly look like?

What does scaphocephaly look like?

Also known as dolichocephaly, scaphocephaly describes an abnormally tall, narrow head shape. This shape is particularly common in premature babies who have spent time in the neonatal intensive care unit.

Common Characteristics:

  • Head is longer and narrower than normal
  • Head is taller than normal
  • Forehead and back of head are often square

Examples of mild, moderate and severe cases of scaphocephaly with plagiocephaly are provided below.

 

 

 

 

 

We’ve created a guided exercise to help you evaluate the shape of your baby’s head and determine if he or she could be a candidate for DOC Band treatment. Take our At-Home Assessment here or visit our What is Plagiocephaly? page for more information on plagiocephaly, what it means for your baby, and what you can do.