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What Is Flat Head Syndrome?

By Kathryn Sammut (she/her), Physiotherapist - Pediatric and Pelvic

Hi, I’m Kathryn Sammut, a Pediatric Physiotherapist here at West End Mamas. And I’m here to talk to you today about flat head syndrome. So flat head syndrome is exactly as it sounds, it’s when your baby ends up having a flatness on the back of the cranium somewhere. And why did this happen? Couple of reasons.

Number one, our babies spend a lot of time lying on their backs with pressure through different parts of their head. When that pressure is equal and they’re spending time through each part of their head while they’re sleeping, that head’s going to stay nice and round. But because the cranium is made up of different bones which have sutures or seams that bring them together. Those sutures and seams remain flexible until between 12 to 18 months when they fuse. So while those sutures are still flexible, if you’re spending time with more pressure through one part of the head for longer periods of time than the other parts of the head, then the flexible bones of the cranium can move and you’ll get a flatness in that area. The good thing about that is that because those sutures are still flexible, we can influence the shape of the head and we can correct that and see a baby’s head return to being nice and round. So it’s all about pressure and position.

So if your baby does not have flathead syndrome yet, you can do many things to prevent that. So just keep an eye on them when they’re sleeping. And when they’re awake to see are they moving their head towards both direction equally. If not, if you see that they do have a preference and spend more time looking towards one side, than they are at risk for developing flat head syndrome.

Okay, so some things that you can do to prevent or to influence the shape of a head once a baby does have flathead syndrome are to reposition their heads. So if your baby’s a deep sleeper, then you’re in luck. Even while they’re sleeping, you can go in and rotate the head to the other side, to get pressure on the other side and give some pressure relief to the side that’s flat.

Also, when they’re awake, you can check. Use a toy and just have them scan and see that they can follow that toy and rotate their head all the way to the one side and all the way to the other side. And when we say all the way, babies heads’ are very flexible so they should be able to get their cheek all the way to touch the surface like that. That means that they have full movement. Okay. So you want to move that toy all the way over so that you’re getting them to move their cheek to the surface. Also when they’re awake, babies often love to follow the action, either through their ears or their eyes. So whatever your baby tends to like to observe or spend time looking at, you want to put that on the side opposite to their preference. So again, we’re having them turn off of that flat spot to get some pressure relief and put pressure on the opposite side of the head.

Some babies like to turn towards their parents at night. And so you may need to, if you’re on their left side, they may develop a preference towards sleeping towards their left side. So you may at times need to switch their head and their feet in the crib so that they turn towards their right side. Some babies, it’s how they fall asleep. There may be something in the room that they habitually look at to fall asleep, whether it’s little pictures or a mobile. And so you want to make sure that at times those are on the right and that other times are on the left.

Sometimes it’s due to a tight muscle. And so because the muscles that move between the head and the trunk become tight, they can pull the baby’s head towards one side. So you’ll sometimes see the ear closer to the shoulder on one side, and then turn the head the other way. And in that case, for sure, it would be beneficial for you to seek out an assessment with a physiotherapist. We’d be able to determine what exactly, which muscle is tight and then give you appropriate stretches that you can feel confident to do at home to treat that tightness. And sometimes it can be due to weakness.

So if the one side is weak, they may have a difficult time turning to that side. And so they may prefer to turn to the other side. So again, in that case we could give you some exercises to strengthen up that side. Once they are able to move their head symmetrically while they’re sleeping, they will begin to get equal pressure on both sides because they’re moving towards both sides.

Okay. So we’d love to see you here at West End Mamas with any questions about flat head syndrome. We can assess your baby specifically and give you the specific strategies that they need to correct that flatness and see a nice round head, and also our pediatric chiropractors, massage therapists, and osteopaths all treat flat head syndrome.

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