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Is your baby at risk of a Flat Head?

Some baby’s heads will start round but become considerably misshapen in the first 4-8 weeks of their life.  Once a flat head shape becomes established it can be exceedingly difficult or impossible to reverse. 

In many cases however, good observation at home and the right management early on can prevent a flat head from occurring.  As a Chiropractor that sees many flat head cases every year, I encourage all parents to keep reading.

There are several flat head types and causes. This article refers to the kind where a baby has a round head in week one after delivery but develops a misshapen skull in the weeks that follow.  The early stages of skull flattening can be inconspicuous, but it can progress rapidly.  By the time a parent can no longer deny that their baby’s head is becoming flat, the head shape distortion can be very well established.  Add to that the delays created by deciding what to do about it and who to see.  

Two-five months is a typical age range for babies that first make it into my office for assessment and care.  Most of these cases would have benefitted from much earlier intervention.

Head position during sleep is key!

A baby is at greater risk of developing a flat area on their skull, when sleeping on their back with their:

  • Head positioned primarily ‘face up’
  • Head positioned primarily turned partially (15-45 degrees) to ONE side.

‘primarily’ in this case = 70% or more of the time

The combination of a relatively soft skull and prolonged pressure in one area can create flattening.

What is ideal?

A baby is at lowest risk of developing a flat head, when sleeping on their back, if their head position alternates regularly to BOTH left and right sides, with a full or semi-full head turn (90-60 degrees).

What to look for?

Observe your child’s preferred head position when sleeping regularly from birth to six weeks.  Check them both night and day, in their bassinette, in the car and on the floor.  Parents should check head position at least weekly within the first six weeks after delivery because this is when this type of head flattening will typically begin.

  • Do they alternate their head position to both left and right sides? If so, what are the ratios left:right e.g., 50:50, 70:30, 90:10?
  • Do they sleep with a full or semi-full head turn (60-90 degrees), or do they sleep with a partial head turn (15-45 degrees)?
  • Do they sleep primarily face up?

What to do?

If an infant prefers a head turn to one side, you may try to turn their head very gently to the opposite side when sleeping.  If your baby prefers to sleep face-up, you may try to turn their head very gently to the left and right side alternately.

If they are comfortable and remained repositioned for 60 minutes or more, you may be able to continue managing their head position on your own with regular checking and repositioning over the course of each day. 

If your baby finds it uncomfortable or will not permit you to turn their head away from their preferred position when sleeping or turns back to their preferred position within a few minutes, it is more likely that they have limited or uneven movement in their neck or shoulder.

If you suspect your baby is at risk of developing a flat head, is developing a flat head, has a fixed head preference when sleeping or has a neck turning problem pleased have it assessed without delay by a health professional experienced with musculoskeletal problems in infants.  

In many cases there is much that can be done to help.  If you have any questions on the topic, including what is involved, please do not hesitate to call 8272 2862 or contact our office via our website https://www.surestarthealth.com.au/contact-us/