Flat Head Syndrome is the name given to when pressures on a babies head cause the shape to deform. It can present from birth either due to pressures placed on your babies skull as it passes through the birth canal, or from positioning and/or lack of amniotic fluid in the womb. Flat head syndrome can also begin presenting a few weeks after birth. A flattening results from the babies soft head pressing against a flat surface for long periods of time. You may notice a flat spot begin developing on your babies head or it appears slightly wide. That one brow may appear to protrude more than the other or one ear appears pushed forward. Flat head syndrome can present itself in different or a combination of forms. The different presentations are called:
Plagiocephaly (play-gee-oh-kef-alley) – The most common form and describes an asymmetric flattening to the side of the head.
Brachycephaly (brake-ee-kef-alley) – Describing a wide head shape with flattening to the back of the head, The head can become high at the back and the forehead pronounced.
Scaphocephaly (scafe-oh-kef-aly) – A long thin head shape.
When to get Help?
Flat Head Syndrome effects nearly half of babies born in the UK to some degree. If you notice any flattening of your babies head, you should always seek medical help from either a GP or Health Visitor. This is too rule out any more serious issues such as tortocollis or Craniosynostosis. Unfortunatley Flat Head syndrome is only considered a cosmetic issue in the UK and therefore treatment is usually not funded through the NHS.
What can I do to Help my Babies Flat Head?
About 80% of cranial growth occurs in the first 12 months, with treatment being most succesful in this time. Early recognition and awareness is key in treatment, the younger the child is the better chance of stopping the progression. Most flattening that occurs is usually only mild and with repositioning techniques during the early weeks and months, can be reversed. For more moderate cases regular sessions with a cranial osteopath can do wonders, although this will not be funded by the NHS.
Simple measures can be taken to take the pressure of the head in the first instance:
- Practice Regular ‘Tummy Time’
- Reduce the amount of time in car seats, bouncy chairs and swings
- Increase the time cuddling and use baby slings and carries
- Reposition toys to encourage your baby to move off the flat spot
- Try speciality pillows and head garments – theraline, lillla kuddis, mimos and tortle
- Use a specialist mattress such as Sleepcurve
- purchase baby bean bags – DooMoo, Daisy Baby, Bambeano
- consider visiting a cranial osteopath
- *Always put your baby to sleep on his/her back to reduce the risk of SIDS*
What if my babies head does not show any improvement?
Repositioning should be beneficial to babies up to four or five months of age and hopefully you should see some improvement. Head shape should improve to some extent with time, but after the age of five months it is doubtful that the head shape will improve naturally to any great extent. This is due to the fact that after this age,babies begin to sit and become mobile and therefore are no longer asserting as much pressures on the head. The skull also begins to harden after this time, making it less pliable to manipulation.
If your baby is four to five months and you are still worried about flatness, your baby may benefit from non Invasive helmet treatment. There are a number of leading UK Orthotists clinics who often offer a free consultation to measure the severity of your babies flatness (20% of patients find that they wont even require treatment as the flatness is not considered severe and will become unnoticeable in time) for corrective helmet treatment. Although treatment is most succesful from 4/5 months, treatment can start up to 12 Months of age, sometimes later.
Unfortunately in the UK the NHS will not fund treatment for this condition and cost can be around £2000. However there are often payment plans that can be taken out and for those who may struggle financially the charity Headstart 4 Babies may be able to assist with costs and furthur advice. Orthotists clinics that may help include:
- Technology in Motion
- Hanger Clinic
- LOC Clinic
- steeper Clinic
The helmets are light weight and the process of wearing one, allows the head to round out as it grows. Each one is moulded to each individuals head shape. They fit snuggly agains the babies head, but space is left around the flat spots. This allows growth to be channeled into these areas, allowing the head to round out. The helmets are worn for 23 hours a day. Although there may be a few days of adjustment, most babies remain unaffected from wearing it. There is no restrictions on head growth or brain development and regular check up allows for growth adjustments.
What are the health implications of flat head syndrome?
In the UK, Flat Head Syndrome is only regarded as a cosmetic issue and thus not funded. However there have been may studies carried out overseas to suggest there may be a number of health implications associated with the condition:
- A high risk for learning delays and developmental delay
- Increased need for special services when the child reaches school age
- Orthodontic and TMJ issues – due to jaw misalignment
- Visual disturbances including visual field defects, and astigmatism
- auditory problems and infections
- Psychological/social issues – due to asymmetric facial features when older
The NHS does not support the use of corrective helmets in infants as they say there is no evidence they work, they are expensive and can be uncomfortable for the baby. However do not take their word for it please do your research. If you are worried about your babies Flat Head and are considering a corrective helmet, I would recommend reading as much as you can about them from the parents who have treated their babies. There are a number or testimonies on the charity page Headstart 4 Babies . I also have no negatives regarding Finlay’s time in his helmet and would do it all over again if needed.
Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional, all advice I have given is from our personal experience during our babies corrective helmet treatment. Always seek medical advice in the first instance.