Baby Flat Head - Tips for Parents

During the first few months of life, your newborn’s skull is soft and flexible. If your baby looks to one side more than the other, a flattened spot on the skull can occur – this is called positional plagiocephaly. This constant pressure on one side of the head can get worse over time as the baby more easily rests on that flat spot. This has not been shown to affect brain development, but can alter the shape and look of your baby’s head and face.

Sample of Plagiocephaly
Why does it happen?

When a baby lies on their back, the head turns to one side because the neck muscles are weak. The baby can develop a head turning preference, where they will always turn their head to either the right or left. This causes a flat spot on one side of the head. If this continues, the baby can develop a torticollis, which is a tightening of the neck muscle on the opposite side of the head turning. A baby can also develop a flat spot straight across the back of the head – this is called brachycephaly.

How can I prevent my child from developing a flat head?

Proper positioning is very important to help prevent developing a flat head. You can try some or all of the following suggestions:

Tummy time

Placing your supervised child on their tummy while they are awake is very important in developing strength in their neck, shoulder and back muscles. It also helps your child keep their head in the middle. Place your baby on their tummy after every diaper change for a few minutes. You can place a rolled towel underneath their shoulders to keep their elbows in line with the shoulders. Aim for at least 30 minutes of tummy time per day when your baby is awake and closely supervised. The 30 minutes does not need to be done all in one session. Frequent short periods of directly supervised tummy time daily works well for babies who only tolerate short periods on their belly. 

Limit time in the car seat

Car seats and swings may cause your baby to always rest on one side of their head. Avoid letting your baby sleep in a car seat inside the house.

Carrying positions

If you bottle feed your baby, make sure to change the arm you hold them with during each feed. 

Position of toys

Alternate the placement of your baby’s toys and interests to the right and left, so they turn their head equally to both sides to play.

Change the head of the bed every day

Your baby likes to look at interesting things, such as a mobile or when a caregiver comes in the room. Change the way your baby sleeps everyday so that they are often turning their head to each side. Babies should be put on their back to sleep.

What do I do if my child already has a flat spot?

If you notice your child already has a flat spot on the back of their head, note the times your baby is resting on the flat area. You can start trying the above suggestions so that your baby rests on the other side of their head. If the flattening persists or you notice that your baby’s head is tilting to one side, make an appointment to see your doctor – your baby may need to be referred to physiotherapy for an assessment and other suggestions.

Published date: 
January 9, 2023
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