It’s more or less common knowledge that infants have softer, less rigid skulls than adults do. However, many new parents aren’t aware of just how malleable their new little one’s head is until they notice him developing a flat spot on one specific area of his head. So just know that it’s not your imagination playing tricks on you.
Although consistently placing babies on their backs to sleep drastically reduces the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), it can raise the risk of flat head syndrome (plagiocephaly). Flat head syndrome occurs when consistent pressure on a baby’s head causes a pronounced flat area or a generally misshapen look. Plagiocephaly can also happen in utero or during the birthing process.
Is flat head syndrome dangerous?
A baby’s head is designed to adapt to influences like pressure, so you can rest assured that his flat spot isn’t causing him any pain. However, flat head syndrome could put your baby at a higher risk for developing other issues as he grows. Addressing and correcting flat head syndrome will, however, resolve those risks. They include:
- Torticollis, a condition that affects the neck muscles and causes the head to sit or rotate at an unusual angle
- Potential motor, health, and cognitive issues as the child develops and grows
- In severe cases, permanent misshaping of the head
- Possible restrictions on which activities the child can safely pursue
- Potential psychological or self-esteem issues
In other words, flat head syndrome isn’t necessarily life-threatening, even if it’s severe and left untreated. However, not addressing it can lead to other problems that can be entirely avoided if it’s treated instead.
How can you prevent flat head syndrome?
The best way to address flat head syndrome is to prevent it from occurring in the first place. That means being more mindful of how and where your child sleeps and rests. You should still always lay your baby down to sleep on his back to avoid SIDS, but you can also vary his positioning to discourage the development or worsening of any flat spots.
For instance, you can gently and frequently change the way his head is positioned as he sleeps. You can also switch up the positioning of his crib to encourage him to turn his head and look around the room more. Special sleeping pillows designed to eliminate or prevent flat head syndrome are beneficial, as well, as they’re safe to sleep on but soft enough to avoid excessive pressure in any one spot.
When your baby’s awake, you can encourage supervised tummy time or actively hold him instead of leaving him lying in his crib. It’s also advisable that babies not be left to sleep or rest in car seats, bouncers, strollers, and similar items for extended periods, as this can make flat head syndrome worse.
The sooner you address a potential or existing case of flat head syndrome, the better the chances of it clearing up altogether. Talk to your doctor today to answer any additional questions you may have about flat head syndrome, baby pillows and safety, or any other issue related to your child’s development.