How to Avoid Flat Head Syndrome

Your precious newborn baby’s head is delicate for several reasons.  First, she needs help holding up her head because her neck muscles cannot yet do the job. Additionally a newborn baby’s skull is very soft and not yet closed.  Since babies spend most of their time on their backs due to weak neck muscles and their skulls are still malleable, they are at risk of developing flat head syndrome.  Today we’re taking a look at how to avoid flat head syndrome.

How to Avoid Flat Head Syndrome

When you look at your baby’s head you probably find it super adorable and kissable.  Well, it is that, but it also has two soft spots known as fontanels.  One fontanel is towards the front of her head and the other towards the back.  These allow the baby’s head some flexibility during birth since space is rather narrow in the birth canal, as you can imagine. Also, these openings between bones allow plenty of space for your baby’s most important brain to grow.  The back fontanel closes by around 4 months of age and the front one should be fully closed by 19 months.

Many parents are worried about touching the soft spots but the truth is it’s ok to touch them gently.  Sometimes touching them is unavoidable, like when you’re getting your baby dressed or when you are washing her hair.  You are unlikely to damage anything during normal daily activities.

The bigger concern about a baby’s head is flat head syndrome or plagiocephaly.  With that back fontanel and the fact that your baby is placed on her back often for neck support and sleep, some babies develop a flat spot on the back of their heads. This has been even more common since the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended that babies sleep on their backs to avoid risk of SIDS.  Between sleeping on her back, enjoying her bouncy chair and infant swing, and riding in a car seat, there’s a lot of pressure on the back of your baby’s head that may cause it to be misshapen.

Fortunately, there are some ways to avoid flat head syndrome.  First, be conscious of how much time your baby spends on her back.  For sleep it is a necessity but for waking hours, try not to leave her in chairs and swings too long.  A better alternative is holding her or wearing her in a baby sling or carrier.  As her neck strength improves and she can hold her head up for longer periods of time, you can hold her in a sitting position for play time.

Tummy time is also recommended for infants until they learn to crawl.  Tummy time has several advantages.  First, it builds neck muscles for eventual autonomous head holding.  It also strengthens your baby’s core muscles that she’ll need for crawling and a variety of other activities very soon.  And tummy time gives you baby a time-out from lying on her head and potentially creating a flat spot.  Aim for multiple tummy time sessions a day for as long as your baby will tolerate it.

Also, try to position your baby’s head differently when she does need to put pressure on it.  Chances are she’s going to have a favorite head position.  Counter-balance her position by laying her on the opposite side sometimes.  When breastfeeding you’ll naturally alternate sides.  Do the same for bottle feeding.

If your baby’s head continues to develop a flat spot that is not improving by 6 months, your pediatrician may recommend cranial orthotic therapy where your baby will wear a custom-fit helmet for a certain period of time until the issue is resolved.

Addressing the problem early is the key to avoid flat head syndrome.  Watch for signs and use these tips to help keep some pressure off of your baby’s head.