Hi there! Dr Katie Roy here.
I’m one of the pediatric chiropractors with West End Mamas. We are passionate about the work we do to ensure that your baby has the best opportunity in all aspects of their life to reach their full potential. Today, we’re going to do a quick dip into flat head syndrome and what you can do at home to get that nice round head shape back.
This is a common question I get asked when I am doing talks. We end up discussing head shape, tummy time and their baby’s flat spot; but what they’re really asking me about is plagiocephaly or brachycephaly and how to help their little ones.
What is flat head syndrome?
Plagiocephaly occurs when one side of the head has a flat spot. You may notice a flat spot on one side of the head, which is the side of the head that the baby prefers to lie on. There may also be an eye that’s smaller than the other or they are flatter on that side of the face. In more severe cases, one ear will begin to shift forward. (If you notice your baby’s ears are shifting, be sure to bring it up to your pediatrician or family doctor at their next appointment.)
Brachycephaly describes the back of the head is flattened. The head will widen and the forehead can bulge outwards.
In either of these conditions, there is no negative impact on the brain and its development. Your baby won’t experience any pain or other symptoms as a result of it. It may slow their physical development until their neck muscles are strong enough to lift their head up and away from the flat spot.
Why does it happen?
A baby’s head is made of several thin, flexible flat bones. This is what enables the head to handle the compressive forces to exit the birth canal and also allows for the rapid growth that occurs in the first 2 years. This also means that prolonged constant pressure on any particular part of the head can change the shape of the skull. This will affect 1 in 5 babies.
There are many possible reasons for plagiocephaly or brachiocephaly to occur. The most common ones are:
- Baby can look both directions, but prefers to lie on that side.
- Neck muscle tightness. Baby can’t and prefers not to look one way.
- Baby’s looks one way and tilts his head.
- Intra-uterine constraints. Ie. Pressure is placed on the baby’s head before it’s born. This can occur with multiples, fibroids or a bifurcated uterus.
- Premature babies – they are more likely to develop plagiocephaly due to the softer cranial bones and their lack of neck strength to reposition their head.
The good stuff: what you can do at home
- Alternate the orientation of the baby when you put them down in the crib. Babies will focus on objects and people outside the crib. Place them in a crib or bassinet 180 degree to the day previous and alternate every day.
- Move the objects and toys around the room weekly to change where your baby is focusing in the room
- Hold them, feed them and carry on alternating sides. **If your baby doesn’t want to feed or gets fussy being held in a certain position; bring them into a chiropractor or physiotherapist that specializes in pediatric services for an assessment.**
- Increase tummy time during the day and encourage them to reach for objects and move into different positions during play. Have tummy time at least 3x/ day during their wake windows.
- Alternate as much as possible between carriers, swings, slings, car seats and flat surfaces to ensure there isn’t constant pressure on one part of their head.
Most importantly, if your baby has difficulty turning their head or tilts their head often, please book an appointment to see a pediatric chiropractor or pediatric physiotherapist for an assessment.
A note about helmets
In more severe cases on plagiocephaly, your baby may be prescribed a helmet. This type of treatment is typically started around 5-6 months of age (but may be started earlier or later) and will be worn continuously for several months. Chiropractors can provide gentle cranial work to encourage the cranium to round out again and reduce the length of time the helmet is needed. Both chiropractors and physiotherapists can provide treatment to stretch and strengthen the muscles of the neck and upper body to assist with the continued progression of your baby’s physical milestone development.
When to book an assessment
Your baby is never too young to see a pediatric chiropractor. If possible, we do prefer that you have had a wellness visit with your midwife or family doctor in their first week of life before coming in for an assessment.
At West End Mamas, pediatric chiropractic treatments are performed by practitioners that focus on and are passionate about working on babies, toddlers and children. We use special techniques for assessment and treatment to allow for safe and effective care for the newest additions to your family. Click here to book your initial or follow-up pediatric visit.
Dr Katie Roy