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Flat head syndrome means that a baby's head is flat in the back or on one side. Most often, it's from lying on the back or lying with the head to one side for long periods of time. Sometimes a baby's forehead, cheek, or ear may get pushed forward a bit on one side. The condition is also called positional plagiocephaly.
Flat head syndrome doesn't hurt your baby. And in most children it goes away on its own when the child can sit and stand. If some flattening remains, it's usually minor. Most of the time it's covered by hair as your child grows.
The shape of a newborn's head may be affected by how the baby was positioned in the uterus. It can also be affected by the birth process or by the baby's sleep position.
Flat head syndrome has become more common since doctors began advising that babies sleep on their back to lower the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
Lots of time spent in cribs, car seats, carriers, or other seats may lead to a flattened head. Torticollis, or "wryneck," can also lead to a flattened head. It's a problem with your baby's neck muscles. It causes the head to turn to one side. If your baby has torticollis, your doctor may recommend neck exercises. They may help your baby turn his or her head.
Your doctor may recommend physiotherapy to treat flat head syndrome. This is especially true if it's caused by problems with your baby's neck muscles.
There are also things you can do to help your baby's head become rounder. Try to get your baby to turn the round side of the head toward the mattress. Try moving the crib to a new place. Or try changing the direction your baby lies in the crib.
Talk with your doctor about how to position your baby so that you don't raise your baby's risk of SIDS. Don't use sleep positioners. And always place your baby on his or her back to sleep, even if your baby has a flattened head. Just offer plenty of tummy time and cuddle time. And change your baby's head position when he or she lies down.
If your baby's head shape does not get better by around 6 months, let your doctor know.
If the flattened head is severe or other treatments haven't worked, your doctor may have you try a custom helmet. The helmet can help correct the shape of your baby's head. Surgery usually isn't done, except in rare cases.
These tips can help prevent a flattened head.
Follow-up care is a key part of your child's treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if your child is having problems. It's also a good idea to know your child's test results and keep a list of the medicines your child takes.
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Current as of: May 27, 2020
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:John Pope MD - Pediatrics & G. Frederick Wooten MD - Neurology & Kimberly Dow MD, FRCPC - Neonatology
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