Parents have been heading me off at the pass with questions about babies and flat heads. Let me come flat out and provide some information on this condition.
There is no better way to prevent sudden unexpected infant death than putting your baby on their back to sleep. But spending a lot of time on their back can make the back of a baby’s head look flatter than usual.
Here’s the good news: for the vast majority of babies, this condition is easily treated. Increase your baby’s tummy time to reduce the amount of time your baby is on their back. More time on their tummies will reduce the amount of flattening due to pressure. It will also encourage muscle strength in the arms, legs, and neck.
If your baby appears to have trouble turning their head, it may be due to a tight neck muscle. Some physical therapy exercises may be in order to remedy the problem. These can be suggested by your baby’s health care professional or, if needed, a physical therapist.
Another idea is to alternate your child’s head position during sleep. This can reduce pressure on back of the head. One night, place the right side of the head on the mattress. Switch sides the next night.
The good news is that over the first year of life, the head usually remolds into a nice round shape. This happens gradually as your baby learns to roll and has less pressure applied to the back of the head.
What if your child is six months old and the back of their head still looks flat? Ask your baby’s health care professional about it. In rare cases, that person may order a special type of helmet for your baby. The helmet can speed up the remolding process of the shape of their skull. A helmet is not often necessary, since remodeling usually happens naturally by a year or two of age.
Even if the back of their head is flat, your baby still needs to be on their back to sleep. This is important, as it reduces that risk of sudden unexpected infant death. It is also important to remember that this shape issue does not involve the brain at all. A flat head will not prevent proper brain growth and development, nor will it cause brain damage.
Hopefully tips like these will shape up any concerns you have about your baby’s flat head shape.
Lewis First, MD, is chief of Pediatrics at The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the Robert Larner, M.D. College of Medicine at the University of Vermont. You can also catch “First with Kids” weekly on WOKO 98.9FM and MyNBC 5, or visit the “First with Kids” video archives at www.UVMHealth.org/MedCenterFirstWithKids.