Positional plagiocephaly is the medical term for flat-head syndrome in babies. It sometimes occurs in young babies during the early months of life due to excess pressure on the bones of a baby’s skull. This can happen in the womb with crowding from multiple births or after birth due to lying in the same positions for long periods of time.
Some things that increase the chances of your baby getting plagiocephaly is the age of the baby. Preemies skull are much softer and they tend to move their heads less. Babies with developmental delay whether physical or mental may be more at-risk due to less mobility or unable to change positions. A baby with torticollis, which is when their neck muscles are tight on one side which makes them want to only lay their head a certain way or direction. This creates added pressure to one side of the head continuously day and night if not recognized and adjusted.
With vaginal births infants head can be slightly misshaped for a few weeks but it should round out and correct itself by 6 weeks of age. Now remember baby’s heads are commonly asymmetrical till 6 months of age and a flat spot will often self-correct when baby begins sitting and crawling. Check with your healthcare provider if there are any doubts or concerns.
As a parent or postpartum doula you can definitely implement some things that are healthy and good for all babies during their rapid development in the early months. This can not only help prevent positional plagiocephaly but also help their physical development to achieve those baby milestones.
Tummy time is one of the best things you can do to help baby develop motor skills. It should start right after birth and continue until baby is crawling and standing. During the first two weeks just placing baby on your tummy and letting him lift his head and look at you for 2 to 3 minutes is good enough a few times a day. Around 3 weeks you can begin laying him on his tummy on the floor so he has a firmer surface and begin practicing on his own. This will help baby to develop his neck muscles and arm strength. Some babies do not like tummy time but it is important to stick with it and do these 4 or 5 times a day. You can start with just a few minutes and then increase the time over several days.
Another thing parents and postpartum doulas can do with young babies is change the positions while sleeping and napping. By alternating which end of the crib you place your baby’s head it will allow him to turn toward the light, objects or activities in different positions. This will lessen the pressure on one particular spot on the head. If you have twins that share a crib have them change positions so they are not always looking in the same direction. By swapping places with each other they can accomplish this quite easily.
If you are bottle-feeding remember to switch sides you feed him on. A breastfeeding mother does this naturally by feeding on both sides so do the same when bottle-feeding.
Lastly limit time spent in free-standing swings, bouncy seats and car seats. All these put added pressure on the backs of their heads. This is why a baby sling or carrier is a good tool to use and is beneficial for many reasons. Read my blog on babywearing for additional benefits at http://babyblueandpink.com/babywearing
Remember all these suggestions are beneficial for all babies to aid and strengthen their development. Work them into your daily routines whether you are a parent or a postpartum doula.