At a young age, a baby's head is very soft and is prone to developing flat spots.
Often referred to as positional plagiocephaly, flat spots are usually caused due to the baby spending long periods of time on their backs.
Fortunately, it's very treatable — and knowing the signs to look for is the first step.
Since parents spend so much time with their little ones, it can be difficult to notice an abnormal head shape.
To better distinguish, we must first understand what a normal head shape looks like.
Of course, "normal" can (and will) look different between every baby. However, these characteristics offer a general guideline of what to look for:
And for our more visual learners out there, here are some photo references.
Over time, both the occurrence and severity of plagiocephaly in infants has increased.
As a result, many parents now include head shape checks into their daily routines.
As you follow the steps below, please keep in mind that this is not an official assessment to diagnose plagiocephaly. Rather, these tips will help you better understand your baby's head shape and the signs to look for.
Place your baby in yours or someone else's lap so you have a good view of the top of their head.
You may notice flatness on either one side, or the entire back of the head. Your baby may also have a combination of these different traits, which is usually more common.
Now let's look at things from the profile view.
Normally, the back of the head is curved and both sides of the head will match both in symmetry and proportion. So for this step, we'll want to focus on the back of the head, and the forehead.
Typically, asymmetry of the facial features is caused by plagiocephaly.
The ear alignment test, AKA the Argenta Method is a great way to check for misalignment from a visual standpoint.
Usually, a more noticeable misalignment indicates a more severe degree of plagiocephaly.
However, it's important to keep in mind that flat spots won't always cause asymmetry in the facial features. Therefore the ear alignment test is usually a good indicator for plagiocephaly, but may not always paint the full picture.
I'm sure we've all seen the old YouTube videos where someone takes a photo of their face every day for 3 years. And we're usually left realizing how easy it can be to miss the small details that make a lot of change to our appearance over time.
The point is, since you see your baby’s face every day, it can be easy to miss gradual changes to their facial features. So, for step 4 we're going to check the shape of their head from the front.
Place your baby in front of a mirror or have them face you while sitting in someone else's lap.
For the final step, lay your baby flat on his or her back with their face looking directly up toward the ceiling.
From here, we can check for any sloping in the forehead. This angle also offers a good opportunity to see if the head appears wide on one or both sides.
Both age and severity of the head shape are two factors that have a significant impact when treating flat spots.
Since the head is very soft at a young age and grows rapidly, an uneven head shape can be common. Generally, for younger babies experts will recommend that parents use these techniques to help alleviate pressure to the head:
Unlike other conditions, plagiocephaly can only be treated for a short window of time. The skull hardens and brain growth typically slows by age 2, at which point the shape of the head is mostly set for life.
While repositioning can sometimes correct mild flatness in babies up to 4 months old, research shows that moderate to severe plagiocephaly is unlikely to self-correct.
The truth is that there is no right or wrong answer to when parent's should be concerned about flat spots.
Visiting with a professional is always going to be the best course of action. And the one that gives you the most experienced insight into your child's condition.
We proudly offer free head shape evaluations handled by our highly-trained clinicians who see hundreds of plagiocephaly patients each year.
Yes, they're 100% free and require no commitment to treatment whatsoever!
What parents are asking
Due to the increasing severity of head shapes today, our research has not shown self-correction in most cases. Remember that an external force was present to cause the deformity, therefore an external force must also be present to correct it. Once your baby is sitting up and moving about, the skull will continue to harden without any external force directing the head’s growth into a symmetrical shape.
For children less than 4 months old, supervised tummy time and repositioning techniques can sometimes be enough to correct an abnormal head shape.
Please note that this assessment is not meant to replace the diagnosis of a medical professional.
If you’re concerned about your baby’s head shape, you can schedule a free evaluation at the clinic location nearest you.
Simple at-home practices including supervised tummy time and repositioning techniques are known to prevent and improve abnormal head shapes up until about four months of age. Additionally, limiting the use of convenience devices, such as car seats, infant carriers and swings, is also recommended.