What is plagiocephaly? (pronounced play-jee-oh-sef-uh-lee)
Heard for the first time, the term “plagiocephaly” may sound like cause for alarm. The condition, sometimes known as “flat head syndrome,” affects nearly one in two infants today (47%), with experts recommending that one in every ten babies be evaluated for treatment. Plagiocephaly is characterized by the development of 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!
Will plagiocephaly affect my baby’s brain development?
No. While plagiocephaly won’t have any lasting harmful effects on your baby’s neurological development, it is likely that left untreated, the head will remain misshapen into adulthood.
When deciding whether or not to move forward with DOC Band® treatment, you might also consider your baby’s later years. Some issues that may arise are:
- Noticeable facial asymmetry
- Poor fitting eyeglasses
- Poor fitting safety equipment, including sports helmets
- Visible flat areas with short or cropped hairstyles
- Jaw misalignment resulting in a crossbite or underbite
To learn more about how the DOC Band has safely and successfully been used to treat babies with plagiocephaly, visit our Results page.
What does plagiocephaly look like?
Parents spend so much time with their baby, recognizing an abnormal head shape can sometimes be difficult, and a flat spot can form in as little as one week. While plagiocephaly is the most commonly referenced abnormal head shape, it is actually one of four types. These shapes can develop to varying degrees of severity and even occur in combination with one another.
- Head is flat on one side
- Head shape resembles a parallelogram from above
- Head is wider than normal
- Back of head is flat rather than curved
- Head is longer and narrower than normal
- Head is taller than normal
Plagiocephaly, brachycephaly and scaphocephaly can all be accompanied by other characteristics, such as asymmetrical facial features, misaligned ears, and a sloped or bulging forehead. To better understand your baby’s particular condition, take our at-home assessment.
What causes plagiocephaly?
It’s our experience that parents of children diagnosed with plagiocephaly are often worried they’ve done something to cause it. Rest assured, plagiocephaly is quite common and many factors can contribute to the disorder—you’re not to blame. The important thing is that you are doing something about it!
Babies’ heads are soft and malleable and even gentle external forces, whether met in the womb or in baby’s daily routine, can cause misshaping. The good news is, babies with plagiocephaly typically respond very well to noninvasive treatments, such as repositioning techniques, which parents can practice at home, and the DOC Band, a custom cranial helmet that redirects baby’s natural growth into a normal head shape.
Babies can develop misshapen heads for a number of reasons:
Babies who become stuck in one position or do not have enough room to move in the womb are at risk of developing plagiocephaly. A breech orientation can also lead to an abnormal head shape.
Plagiocephaly is common in cases of multiple births, where limited space can lead to distortion of the head.
Premature babies have especially soft skulls, making them even more susceptible to misshaping. These babies often spend extended periods of time in the neonatal intensive care unit with the head in a fixed position while on a respirator. Premature babies are also more likely to be physically delayed, which can prevent normal movement of the head
Congenital Muscular Torticollis (CMT) is a condition in which the neck muscles are abnormally tight, causing baby’s head to tilt and/or turn to one side. Torticollis often causes the head to be held in a single position, which can lead to plagiocephaly. You can learn more about Torticollis here.
Carriers & Convenience Devices
While in car seats, bouncy seats and swings, baby’s soft head is often placed against a rigid, unyielding surface. Though normal use is not a concern, extended use—and allowing an infant to sleep in such devices, in particular—increases the risk of plagiocephaly.
The relationship between back-sleeping and plagiocephaly in infants is well-documented. While the American Academy of Pediatrics still recommends back-sleeping to prevent Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, they also recommend frequent rotation of baby’s head, as well as supervised tummy time. The recommended treatment for unresolved plagiocephaly is cranial helmet therapy.
Why has plagiocephaly become more common in recent years?
In the 1990s, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) introduced the Back to Sleep campaign, which urged parents to put infants to sleep on their backs. While the AAP still recommends back-sleeping to prevent Sudden Infant Death Syndrome or SIDS (the Back to Sleep campaign has reduced SIDS-related deaths by more than half!), they have since recognized a correlation between back-sleeping and plagiocephaly.
How can I prevent or correct flat spots?
Simple at-home practices, including supervised tummy time and repositioning techniques, are known to effectively prevent and improve abnormal head shapes. You can learn how to adopt these practices here.
Most insurance companies will require parents to practice repositioning techniques for at least two months before proceeding with a cranial orthotic such as the DOC Band. The DOC Band is the first FDA-cleared device of its kind and is proven to treat plagiocephaly in babies ages 3 to 18 months old. Each helmet is custom made to safely and effectively redirect the baby’s natural growth into a normal head shape. Learn more about the DOC Band here.
To browse our before and after photo gallery of babies successfully treated with the DOC Band, visit our Results page.