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Flat Head Syndrome

​​Babies grow and develop at incredible rates. To accommodate this, their body composition is much different than that of a full-grown adult, or even an elementary-aged child. To adjust to a quickly-growing brain, an infant’s skull is soft and flexible. It’s a marvel of nature that the body can change like this, but it also puts babies at risk of developing a condition called flat head syndrome.

  • Flat Head Syndrome

    Alexis L. Sawyer, M.D.
    Boys Town Pediatrics

    Flat head is a condition that commonly happens to babies. It's when the back of the head of a baby gets flat over time, basically, from positioning or lying on their back so long.

    The skull is very soft and pliable at this age. The bones in the head shift around a little bit. The reason that they do that is because the brain is developing still and growing and the brain needs to be able to push out the skull.

    My recommendations for parents, is to give them tummy time while they're awake during the day, starting from the time you bring them home from the hospital.

    You may want to start with just a minute or two to begin with and then you work your way up as well as your baby tolerates it. I try to tell parents to get in a couple times a day of doing that.

    Sometimes parents will always feed their baby on one arm and that can be a problem because it pushes on that one side of the head and you can get flatness there. So, think about switching which arm you're feeding your baby on.​

    Also, think about which way your baby's head is in their crib or bassinet and also on their changing table. They always want to be looking out at you so they might get a little bit flat on one side versus the other. If you rotate that every once in a while, that will help even that out and make them more round in the back of their head.​

What is Flat Head Syndrome?

Flat head is a condition when a baby’s skull is misshapen or more flat on one side as a result of inconsistent pressure on all sides of the head. There are two types of flat head:

  • Plagiocephaly: only one side of the baby’s head is flattened
  • Brachycephaly: the baby’s head appears wide and short, sometimes the back of the head has an increased height

Flat head syndrome may cause one side of your baby’s head to bulge or facial features to be asymmetrical

Flat Head Syndrome Prevention

Though approximately one in five babies develops flat head syndrome, the condition is easily preventable. For the most part, prevention just includes switching your baby’s position so that pressure is not always on one side of the head. This can be accomplished through a few methods:

  • Tummy time: When awake, put your baby on his or her tummy to play with you. This strengthens new muscles and takes pressure off the back of your baby’s head.
  • Alternate positions: Doctors still encourage parents to put babies on their backs to sleep, but to reduce your baby’s chances of developing flat head, alternate which side your baby’s head is facing. Also take this into consideration when feeding, holding and changing your baby.

When to See a Doctor

Often, flat head rounds out naturally over time. However, if your baby’s head does not seem to be adjusting or if you believe there is excessive flattening, talk to your pediatrician.

Newborn;Infant and Toddler Care Pediatrics