What every parent should know about flat head syndrome (plagiocephaly)
WHAT EVERY NEW PARENT SHOULD KNOW ABOUT FLAT HEAD SYNDROME (PLAGIOCEPHALY)
Newborns do not come with instructions. As a new parent, you have probably realized this and have tediously searched out hundreds of resources to make this new chapter in your life as easy as possible. Fortunately, the options are endless and you will, at some point, find the answers to each and every question you have.
You may not even know about flat head syndrome – many new parents don’t until it is too late. But what you probably REALLY don’t know is that 46% of infants will have some degree of flattening on the skull by the time they are 4 months of age! Lucky for you, Newborn Nightingales and Baby Begin have teamed up to give you the down and dirty about plagiocephaly (flat head syndrome) and how to prevent it. Follow these easy tips from the get-go and you can ensure your baby has a round noggin forever. No helmet, thank you very much. J
Repositioning- ROTATE THAT BABY!
Babies should always be put to sleep on their back on a flat surface like a bassinet, pack n play or crib. Try, though, to turn the baby’s head a different direction at each sleep time. Rotate her in the crib so she faces different directions. Alternate which side you are feeding her, changing her diaper and carrying her.
The key here is to watch if your baby has a strong preference to turn her head in the same direction. If you see this, talk to your pediatrician right away. You might need a therapist to evaluate for neck tightness (torticollis) that is probably causing her to only look in one direction. Early treatment of this is a critical part of preventing a flat head and can be very effective when started right away.
Tummy Time – IT ROCKS!
Supervised tummy time should be started right when you get home from the hospital. On your chest, lap or floor are good options. The baby may not like it, but will adjust quickly if you do it in small increments and start early. Try to incorporate supervised tummy time into your daily schedule, just like you do feedings and diaper changes. Remember, the more time a baby is off the head, the easier it is to grow in a normal shape. The first 2-3 months are the most critical time for your baby’s head shape, so start now – don’t wait!
Incline Surfaces/Containers – USE AT YOUR OWN RISK!
These can be your best friend but also your biggest enemy, so use them with caution. An “incline surface” includes a car seat/carrier, nap nanny, swing, Rock n Play, and bouncy seat. Combined, these should not make up more than three (yes- just three) hours of your baby’s day. Don’t forget to count all shopping trips, meals out, naps, walks, errands, siblings’ activities, etc. It adds up quickly, so watch it closely. (If you have multiples, this gets a little more complicated – so do your best.) Remember – your baby should always sleep on a flat surface on their back.
Head Checks – KEEPING IT ROUND!
Keep a close eye on the shape of your baby’s head from the moment you get home from the hospital. The best way to look at it is from a “bird’s eye view,” or looking down on it from the top. This is how you can tell if there is any flattening or asymmetry. Typically, the flattening will begin in the back so this is a good place to start watching. If you see any flattening, immediately let your pediatrician know so you can address it right away. A “wait and see” approach does not work in this situation. Push for a therapy referral so you can correct the issue before it becomes a much bigger problem. Remember, the first 4 months is your window of opportunity.
Jennifer Barnard is a pediatric Occupational Therapist specializing in treating infants with plagiocephaly (flat head syndrome) and torticollis (tight neck). She founded Baby Begin in an effort to change the way plagiocephaly was treated, namely, to provide preventative information and specialized therapy to new families and their infants. To date, Baby Begin has treated close to 3,000 babies all over the world and they have an 80% success rate of keeping those babies out of helmets. She has now made it her passion to educate anyone who has contact with newborns on how to prevent a flat head. She is one of the only professionals that address both a flat head (plagiocephaly) and torticollis to AVOID needing corrective devices. This knowledge dramatically decreases the incidence of plagiocephaly as we know it! She is married with 3 daughters and enjoys hanging out with friends, traveling and hiking.