Flat head syndrome is the flattening of an infant’s head due to continued pressure on one spot. These changes to the skull cause the head to look distorted, but are purely cosmetic and not associated with problems of brain function or growth.
There are 3 common types of flat head syndrome:
Infant’s skulls are softer than older children. A softer skull is a normal part of growth and development but can make the skull more vulnerable in the first few months after birth. Pressure on a softer skull can cause a change in the shape of the head. The pressure is most often caused by long periods of time with the head resting in the same position. Since young infants have little control over head movement they are more likely to spend long periods of time in the position they are placed in.
Older infants are less vulnerable to these changes because their skulls become harder and they are better able to control their head movements.
Factors that may increase your baby’s risk of flat head syndrome include:
Babies with flat head syndrome have a flattened spot on one area of the head. Plagiocephaly and brachycephaly may also result in distortions of the face on the opposite side.
Talk with your baby’s doctor about the best treatment plan for your baby. Options include:
Regularly changing your baby’s position will relieve pressure on the affected area of the skull. Some steps include:
Physical therapy may be used to teach you exercises you can do with your baby. The exercises will include stretching your baby’s neck muscles and decreasing the preference to rest on one side only.
To help reduce your baby’s chances of getting flat head syndrome, take these steps:
Healthy Children—American Academy of Pediatrics
Kids Health—Nemours Foundation
Caring for Kids—Canadian Paediatric Society
Flat head syndrome (positional plagiocephaly). Kids Health—Nemours Foundation website. Available at: http://kidshealth.org/parent/growth/sleep/positional_plagiocephaly.html. Updated October 2014. Accessed November 10, 2015.
Plagiocephaly. Boston Children’s Hospital website. Available at: http://www.childrenshospital.org/health-topics/conditions/plagiocephaly. Accessed November 10, 2015.
Plagiocephaly and brachycephaly (flat head syndrome). NHS Choices website. Available at: http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/plagiocephaly/Pages/Introduction.aspx. Updated April 29, 2014. Accessed November 10, 2015.
Positional plagiocephaly. American Association of Neurological Surgeons website. Available at: http://www.aans.org/Patient%20Information/Conditions%20and%20Treatments/Positional%20Plagiocephaly.aspx. Updated September 2010. Accessed November 10, 2015.
Positional plagiocephaly. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T905714/Positional-head-deformity. Updated October 6, 2014. Accessed November 10, 2015.
Positional plagiocephaly. UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital website. Available at: http://www.childrenshospitaloakland.org/main/Positional-Plagiocephaly.aspx. Accessed November 10, 2015.
Positional plagiocephaly in children. Seattle Children’s website. Available at: http://www.seattlechildrens.org/medical-conditions/chromosomal-genetic-conditions/positional-plagiocephaly. Accessed November 10, 2015.
van Wijk RM, van Vlimmeren LA, et al. Helmet therapy in infants with positional skull deformation: randomised controlled trial. BMJ. 2014 May 1;348.
What is flat head syndrome (plagiocephaly or brachycephaly)? NCT website. Available at: http://www.nct.org.uk/parenting/what-flat-head-syndrome-plagiocephaly-or-brachycephaly. Accessed November 10, 2015.
Last reviewed December 2015 by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.