Ways to support your baby with flat spots or a flat head
If you’re reading this, you are probably concerned about your baby’s head shape and you’re wondering whether flat spots are dangerous and if there’s anything that you can do to fix them! The good news is that, except in severe cases, flat spots (also known as plagiocephaly) don’t pose any harm to your child and they are largely a cosmetic issue. Furthermore, mild to moderate flat spots usually go away on their own or with conservative intervention and, in more severe cases, significant improvements can still be achieved.
One of the most common questions we get is ‘How do babies develop flat spots in the first place?’
Babies can develop flat spots during the birthing process because of the long hours of pressure that contractions place on their head as they go through the birth canal. Another common reason for flat spots is baby’s position once they’re born. Your baby’s skull is highly malleable because the bones that make up their skull aren’t fused together yet. Because babies spend a lot of their time on their back, there’s constant pressure in the back of a baby’s head and this can cause these skull bones to shift and the gradual development of a flat spot to emerge in this same region. In other cases, babies with torticollis, structural misalignments in their neck, or babies that are always held looking the same way can cause a preference for looking one way, and this preference can develop flat spots that are more off to the side of the back of their head.
When it comes to helping correct your baby’s head shape, early intervention is going to be the most important factor. At around 4-6 months of age, your baby’s skull has the highest capacity for remodeling. On the other hand, by 18 months of age, interventions are typically rendered ineffective because the skull bones are now fused. As you can see, time is of the essence and so we’ve decided to provide you with 7 things that you can try to conservatively help support your baby’s head shape.
Getting baby off their back:
The easiest thing you can do to prevent or reduce flat spots in your baby’s head is to limit the amount of time that your baby is resting on their back and putting pressure on their head. Tummy time and holding your baby vertically up against your chest are great ways to achieve this. However, to decrease the chance of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), only do tummy time while baby is awake and under your supervision.
Keep an eye on how you’re holding your baby:
Without realizing it, many of us will hold our babies in the same position each time. This can make it so that our baby is always facing the same way and so pressure is constantly being added on the same side of the head. Check and see if you typically cradle your baby in your arms in the same way and, if so, consider switching sides for a little bit to see if your baby’s flat spot improves!
Many people are surprised to find that chiropractic care can be a huge help when it comes to babies and flat heads. If your baby developed a muscle imbalance or bony misalignment through their neck during the birthing process, it’s likely that your baby will prefer looking one way and will have a tough time (and sometimes pain) with looking the other way. As discussed, prolonged preference looking one way can create flat spots on the side of the head, but by gently releasing tight neck muscles, correcting misalignments, and removing nerve interference, chiropractic care can help to prevent and reduce your baby’s flat head!
Cranial Sacral Therapy:
Cranial Sacral Therapy focuses on the relationship between the bones in the skull and pelvis, and the way cerebrospinal fluid is rhythmically pumped up and down along the spinal cord. When it comes to flat spots, these professionals can provide cranial work to your baby through sessions of gentle and specific massage to help correct head shape.
If your baby developed flat spots in their skull due to tight neck muscles, a pediatric physical therapist can analyze your baby’s muscle tone and provide stretches that gently target these muscles.
Supplemental pillows and mattresses:
Oftentimes, parents will ask us about different options when it comes to correcting their child’s head shape. They’ll mention some head pillows that encourage their baby to keep their head straight instead of leaning to their usual side. There are also mattresses that dip down at the level of baby’s head to better distribute the pressure being placed on their skull. While there are many options out there, we always recommend that you consult with yourpediatrician before using these and to always make sure to use these resources while baby is safely under your supervision.
The other important thing to keep in mind is that while these products can help and complement head shape rehab, these products aren’t enough to fix muscle imbalances or misalignments and so they can be used, but we recommend that they’re used in combination with the above mentioned options.
Plagiocephaly helmets are another option that you have when it comes to managing your child’s flat spots. However, we usually recommend it as a last resort because they can cause skin irritation, discomfort, pressure sores, and it can run hot on baby’s head. From a chiropractic standpoint, even though the helmets are pretty light, we also believe they still weigh enough on a child’s head to interfere with their development, balance and gait. Also, because flat spot correction is usually considered cosmetic, many insurance companies will not cover the helmets, which means that cost is another factor to consider as well.
Plagiocephaly or flat spots in a baby’s head is usually nothing to be concerned about. Most flat spots correct themselves by the age of 2 or through early and conservative intervention. When looking for ways of helping to correct flat spots on your child’s head, you can consider these options:
- Getting baby into positions that take pressure off their head.
- Keeping a close eye on how you’re holding your baby.
- Chiropractic care for addressing muscle, structure and neurology.
- Cranial Sacral therapy for cranial work.
- Physical Therapy for neck stretches.
- Baby products that complement your correction efforts.
- Baby helmets as a last resort.