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4 key points every new parent should know about Flat Head Syndrome (Plagiocephaly)... and how to ...

Here's what you need to know to prevent Flat Head Syndrome (Plagiocephaly).

1. There are things you can do to prevent it from happening to your baby.

2. Early intervention is key.

3. Molded helmets can work if it gets that bad, but they don't treat the whole picture. 4. It's completely fixable.

The introduction of SIDS guidelines has had a massive positive impact on infant death rates. The bad news is, since its introduction, rates of Flat Head Syndrome have dramatically increased, but after reading this article you should be able to:

  • Avoid it happening to your child.

  • Identify it if it is already there and make some changes that will help treat the problem if it is already present.

1. There are things you can do to prevent it from happening to your baby.

I want you to picture a brand new freshly opened packet of playdough. To make it into a perfect ball we rub it evenly in all directions, right?

Newborn babies' heads are nowhere near as soft as playdough but it's the best analogy I could come up with. Babies' heads are made up of different bones that are joined by cartilage. That's why you can feel a soft spot at the top of their head. The soft spot is totally normal and, by the way, it's normal for the soft spot to pulse. That freaked me out the first time I saw it. The way you prevent flat head syndrome is to make sure you and the baby are applying forces evenly around the whole head.

The best way to ensure even distribution of force across the whole head is:

  • Tummy time is awesome. They might hate it initially, but, it's one of the first times you get to say 'sorry, but it's for your own good'. I would recommend you aim to do a few stints throughout each day aiming for a total of over 15 minutes. Half an hour is great if you can manage it. It's particularly effective if you can make a bit of a game of it and get them looking right and left.

  • Get them moving their head right and left. You can jiggle something that makes noise or act like an idiot to encourage the baby to move their head and neck through a full range of movement. No one's watching, and by now, you shouldn't care as much if they are.

  • Alternate your position. When you're feeding or holding them, be mindful that the position you are most comfortable in, may be the most comfortable position for the baby too.

  • Change the baby's sleeping position regularly, especially if you find they always lay in the same spot. This involves gently rotating their head, that's all.

If you're unsure or want your baby assessed, there are multiple types of practitioners qualified to assess and diagnose head shape issues. These include Pediatricians, mothercraft nurses and allied health providers with pediatric training, such as Osteopaths and Physiotherapists.

2. Early intervention is key.

If you were to leave the playdough out over night, it would become firmer and it also becomes harder to influence it's shape. Babies' skulls progressively ossify as they get older, which means they become harder and go from being largely cartilage, to what will eventually be fused solid bones.

This is the reason that early intervention is key. The earlier the intervention for head shape issues, the faster the recovery and the higher the guarantee of completely fixing the problem.

3. Molded helmets can work if it gets that bad, but they don't treat the whole picture.

The playdough analogy hopefully helps but it's not that simple.

The baby will lay wherever they are most comfortable, it's human nature. That's why the neck and upper back are really important.

They need to be able to move through a full range of movement comfortably for the baby to be comfortable laying in different positions. If it hurts or is stiff going to the right, they're not going to want to lay with their head rotated right for example.

Plagiocephaly helmets are individually molded helmets that work similarly to teeth braces. They apply pressure on the prominent areas of the skull and encourage outward growth of the flat areas. This can be very effective in more severe cases; however, it's not treating the whole picture and, it should be done in conjunction with an allied health practitioner like an Osteopath or Physiotherapist.

I like to see the baby display a full range of movement through their trunk and neck, good spinal alignment and strength that matches their age and level of development.

4. It's completely fixable.

If your baby has shown signs of flattening or distortion of the shape of their head, I would recommend you follow some of the tips I have given in this article. I also recommend getting your baby assessed by a local healthcare provider that is qualified and experienced in dealing with head shape issues.

My personal preference is to seek treatment from a practitioner who includes an element of hands-on treatment in the management of Flat Head Syndrome. Reason being, babies respond so fast to even the most gentle joint mobilisation, massage or stretching.

My final tip.

If you have noticed a bit of a flat spot and your baby tends to always want to lay to one side, I would recommend you set their cot and anything else they spend time in so that if they turn the way they like to go, there is a blank wall. Anything colorful, bright or moving is in the opposite direction, so if they want to keep an eye on what's going on, they have to turn the way that they don't normally turn.

Being a parent is the most amazingly, exhaustingly, energisingly, demoralising, rewardingly, emotionally testing job I've ever had. I traded my sleep, spare time and my hair for my kids. We try to do our best for our kids and, I don't know about you, but I would do anything in my power to make their lives as amazing as they can be.

I hope this has helped put minds at ease, inspired or influenced parents to seek help if that's what's necessary. I'm happy to answer any questions you might have if you comment below.

Thank you for reading this article. If you would like some more helpful information please fill out and send the enquiry form below.

Book an Appointment with Dr Adam Pitt (Osteopath)

Dapto Osteopathic Clinic

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