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Plagiocephaly

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW:

What is plagiocephaly?

Plagiocephaly, or flat head syndrome, is a common condition that causes a flat spot to develop on your baby's head. Plagiocephaly is not painful, and it does not harm your baby's brain.

What causes plagiocephaly?

  • Babies' heads are soft and flexible when they are born. It is common for a baby to spend a lot of time on his or her back. A flat spot can develop when your baby's head rests against a flat surface for a long period of time. Examples include a crib mattress, car seat, or swing. This is called positional plagiocephaly and is the most common type.
  • Sometimes, positional plagiocephaly can develop in the womb. This can happen when movement is limited. For example, there is more than one baby, or the womb is small and movement is limited.

What increases my baby's risk for plagiocephaly?

Your baby's risk is higher if he or she was born prematurely or with a large head. The risk is also higher if your baby sleeps for long periods at an early age.

What are the signs of plagiocephaly?

  • Flattened spot on the back, side, or front of your baby's head
  • Lack of hair in one spot
  • Slanted or misshaped head
  • Uneven ears

How is plagiocephaly diagnosed?

Your baby's pediatrician will examine your baby's head. He or she will check for a similar condition called craniosynostosis. This means the skull bones join together too early and create an abnormal head shape. Craniosynostosis may look like plagiocephaly but needs surgery to be fixed.

How is plagiocephaly managed?

Flat spots usually go away between ages 3 to 6 months. Your baby will start to develop more head control. This means he or she can move his or her head independently. Then your baby will start to sit up and crawl. He or she will spend less time lying down. This may take longer if your baby was born prematurely or is delayed. Talk to your baby's pediatrician if you notice a flat spot. He or she may refer you to a specialist if necessary. Treatment depends on your baby's age and how severe the flat spot is:

  • Change your baby's head position when he or she sleeps. Always place your baby on his or her back to sleep. Do not use infant sleep positioners, pillows, or blankets to position your baby. Each time your baby sleeps, alternate his or her head from side to side. Try to keep the pressure off of the flat spot.
    Back to Sleep
  • Change your baby's position in the crib. Place your baby's head at the opposite end of the crib every time you lay him or her down to sleep. For example, place his or her head closest to the left end of the crib. Then, the next time, place his or her head closest to the right end of the crib. He or she will naturally turn his or her head to look out into the room. This will help keep pressure equal on both sides of the head.
  • Hold your baby more often. Use a baby carrier that straps to your chest or back. This will decrease the amount of time your baby's head is lying against a flat surface.
  • Do tummy time often during the day. This will help make your baby's neck muscles stronger. It will also keep pressure off the back of his or her head.
  • Go to physical therapy with your baby. A physical therapist will teach you home exercises. These exercises will help stretch and strengthen your baby's neck muscles.
  • A corrective helmet or headband may be needed if there is no improvement after 3 months. These devices may also be needed if the flat spot is severe. Your baby's pediatrician will prescribe the right device for your baby. Helmets are lightweight and apply gentle pressure to your baby's head. Helmets help correct the flat spot as your baby's head grows. They are worn up to 23 hours each day. Helmets work best when used between 4 and 12 months of age.
  • Take pictures every 2 to 4 weeks so you can see if the flat spot is getting better or worse. Take the picture from above as you look directly down on your baby's head. Take these pictures to your visits with your baby's pediatrician.

When should I call my baby's pediatrician?

  • You have questions or concerns about your baby's condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your baby's care. Learn about your baby's health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your baby's healthcare providers to decide what care you want for your baby. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.