Flat head in the newborn: symptoms, causes and prevention


  • 1 What is plagiocephaly
  • 2 Types of crushing of the head of the newborn
  • 3 Causes of the flat head in the newborn
  • 4 Diagnosis of the flat head in the newborn
  • 5 How to prevent flat head in the newborn
  • 6 Treatment of plagiocephaly 

When we realize it, we immediately panic. “What happens to my baby's head? But will she stay 'crooked' forever? And now how do you do it? ". In reality, you don't need to get anxious. The flat head in the newborn is very common and, in the vast majority of cases, it resolves itself in a very short time. Let's see what it is, so as to reassure us immediately. 

What is plagiocephaly

The scientific term for the flat head in the newborn is plagiocephaly. It derives from the fusion of two Greek words: “plagios”, which means oblique, and “chefale”, which means head. Plagiocephaly is therefore a flattening of one side of the skull. That is, the child's head appears asymmetrical and flattened on one side, almost assuming the shape of a rhombus. 

Types of crushing of the head of the newborn

  • Plagiocephaly: flattening of one side of the head.
  • Brachycephaly: The head is broad in length, so it is flat in the back.
  • Scaphocephaly: The head is narrow in relation to the length.

Causes of the flat head in the newborn

When a baby comes into the world, the bones of his skull are not yet perfectly fused. This allows it to pass through the vaginal canal. If this were not the case, that is, if the bones were rigid, it would be impossible to be born without trauma. In addition, the soft structures serve the skull to adapt to the growth of the brain in the first two years of the child. Over time, the bones fuse, the fontanelles close, and the head becomes progressively less delicate. 

Plagiocephaly occurs in the early life of newborns. The main cause is the position they assume for most of their day, that is, the supine position. For some years now, the recommendations have been clear: to prevent cot death, infants must sleep on their stomachs. Hence, they spend a lot of time like this and the head can "squeeze" to one side, causing so-called postural plagiocephaly. Consequently, if on the one hand the cases of SIDS are fortunately reduced, on the other hand those of plagiocephaly are increasing.

Sometimes plagiocephaly can present itself at birth, for example if there has been a compression of the head inside the uterus. It can also be a consequence of passing through the birth canal. There is also a rare form, called synostotic, which derives from the early welding of the sutures between the bones. The consequences for the baby could be serious, but the careful eye of a pediatrician will be able to recognize the problem right away.

Another cause of the flat head in the newborn is the weakness of the neck muscles. In this case, children have a tendency to bend their head to one side only, thus assuming a wrong position which, in the long run, can cause flattening.

Diagnosis of the flat head in the newborn

Usually, plagiocephaly is simply discovered by observing the baby. Even a mother can notice that a part of the head is crushed, but certainly this will not escape the pediatrician during a normal visit. 

Only in the most serious cases, in which for example a synostosis is suspected, are special investigations necessary, such as ultrasound, CT scan or magnetic resonance. The goal is to rule out any situations that could have negative repercussions on the baby's brain development.

How to prevent flat head in the newborn

The first good rule is to change your puppy's position from time to time when he is lying down. If he's awake, put him on his stomach. When it is very small, it is also fine lying on your stomach, then, from 4 months, even on a mat, such as those in gyms. As he grows, he will automatically try to keep his head elevated and this exercise is very important for strengthening and training the neck muscles. Do this for a few minutes several times a day. 

When he sleeps, avoid always putting him with his head turned to one side. In this way, the pressure will not be exerted only on one side. Move it gently while sleeping, so as to alternate sides. 

One way to make him dizzy while awake is to move his toys. To follow them, the child will be forced to turn his head towards where you placed them. This way, pressure will not always be exerted on the same spot, reducing the risk of flattening. Do not leave your baby in the bouncer for too long.

During walks, put the baby in a sling or, when he is older, in the baby carrier.

Treatment of plagiocephaly 

In the case of a flat head in the newborn, the pediatrician is clearly decisive. In mild forms there are no great things to do other than try to change the baby's position often to avoid accentuating the problem. As mentioned, the bones are still soft, so recovery can be quick and easy. The important thing is to try as much as possible to avoid that the baby is only on one side of the head: you have to encourage him to lean on both. So, follow the advice we have given for prevention: they are also good as a therapy. 

One of the recommendations against SIDS is not to use pillows. However, if there is a problem of plagiocephaly there are special ones created in particular materials that can be effective to bring the head back to a normal condition. HERE you can see a model. Talk to your pediatrician to see what he thinks about it. 

Among the treatments there is also osteopathy. Thanks to a series of very delicate manipulations (do not think it is an invasive thing!), The specialist can contribute to the solution of the problem. If, on the other hand, there is a stiff neck or if you need to strengthen the neck muscles, the physiotherapist can intervene. 

In severe cases, special helmets are prescribed to eliminate the flat head in the newborn, which, to obtain results, should be worn practically all day. The therapy lasts about 3-5 months, but is indicated only in some circumstances, certainly not routine. 

If plagiocephaly is caused by premature solidification of the cranial sutures, the intervention of a neurosurgeon may be required. 

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