Know When to Treat Your Infant's Abnormal Head Shape
Abnormal Head Shape Treatment
When a baby is born there is usually some deformity of the head during the birthing process. In most cases, this goes away after the first six weeks. However, if after six weeks a parent or caregiver notices that the shape of the head looks abnormal, they should bring it to the attention of their pediatrician.
With the recommendation that babies sleep on their backs to help prevent Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), parents are noticing an increase in abnormal or flattened head shapes. This flattened head syndrome, also known as positional (or deformational) plagiocephaly, results from preferentially lying on one side of the head. Deformational brachycephaly is a flattening across the back of the head.
"There are several reasons that a baby will develop positional plagiocephaly or positional brachycephaly. Because babies spend a lot of time on their backs, it causes pressure to be applied to just one area of the head. Babies' bones are soft so this pressure causes the bone to flatten and shift," says Scot Sepe, chief of orthotics and prosthetics at Arkansas Children's Hospital. "This condition can also develop inside the mother's uterus if there are multiple babies, large-size babies or if the mother has a small uterus or uterus abnormalities. Premature babies, also have a higher risk because their bones are extra soft. Some babies have a condition called torticollis, which is the tightening of the neck muscle on one side of the neck, which causes their head to remain in one position."
If the case is very mild, a doctor might recommend trying "tummy time" while the baby is awake or positioning the baby so that the flat side is not receiving direct pressure. While time on his stomach provides rest for the back of a baby's head, it also helps them learn to push up on their arms, which develop the muscles needed for crawling and sitting up, and strengthens neck muscles.
"A baby should be put to bed on their back because this has been proven to help reduce Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). But the position a baby is placed in while sleeping on their back can be changed so that a constant pressure is not applied to one area," adds Sepe. "While the baby is awake they should spend as much time on their stomach as possible. This helps promote the decrease of head deformities as well as help the baby develop other motor skills."
At Arkansas Children's Hospital, a baby with this condition is seen by a doctor who specializes in the treatment of head deformities. The doctor will have X-rays taken to examine the condition of the skull and rule out any other complications. If the baby has torticollis an evaluation by a physical therapist and a home exercise program to stretch out the neck muscle to allow the baby better range of motion may be needed. Often the torticollis is resolved with one or two visits to the physical therapist and the family following through at home.