The condition, sometimes known as “flat head syndrome,” affects nearly one in two infants today (47%), with one in every ten babies being severe enough that experts would recommend treating with a helmet.
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 successfully reducing Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) by more than half. While the AAP still recommends back-sleeping to prevent SIDS, they have since recognized a correlation between back-sleeping and plagiocephaly.
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 and may lead to functional challenges as children get older:
- 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
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, plagiocephaly and other shapes can develop to varying degrees of severity and even occur in combination with one another.
Plagiocephaly Head Shape (pronounced play-jee-oh-sef-uh-lee)
- Back of head is flat on one side
- Head shape resembles a parallelogram from above
Brachycephaly Head Shape (pronounced brak-ee-sef-uh-lee)
- Head is wider than normal
- Back of head is flat rather than curved
Scaphocephaly Head Shape (pronounced skaf-oh-sef-uh-lee)
- 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?
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. Typically, plagiocephaly can be caused by a variety of different situations such as:
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.
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.
Congenital Muscular Torticollis (CMT) is a condition in which the neck muscles are abnormally tight on one side, 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.
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 (NICU) 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.
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 in utero can lead to distortion of the head.
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.