As pediatric occupational and physical therapists, we often see parents who are concerned about their baby developing a flat head. Flat head, also known as plagiocephaly, is a flattening of one or both sides of the head. This can be caused by small intrauterine space, torticollis (a tightening of the muscles in baby’s neck) or when your baby spends too much time on his back, which frequently occurs when a baby needs special medical attention in the NICU.
Parents can identify if their baby may have plagiocephaly by observing flattening on one side of the baby’s head, noticing that the baby’s ears are not aligned or noticing lack of hair growth in one area. If you do notice any of these signs it is important to point them out to your doctor. Your doctor can help you determine if your baby has a flattening on his head and let you know if therapeutic intervention is needed.
Many parents ask what they can do to prevent or treat plagiocephaly. There is no evidence that special head support pillows help to improve head shape and they can be unsafe for babies. Special seats and jumpers have been shown to interfere with gross motor development and should only be used in extreme situations when advised by a medical professional.
While in some cases more serious intervention may be necessary, many parents can effectively prevent and treat plagiocephaly at home when the baby is four months and younger. Here are our favorite tips to prevent your baby from developing plagiocephaly.
1. Wear your baby! Use a carrier and wear your baby rather than keep him in the car seat when possible. There are many benefits to baby wearing including the precious snuggles you get while holding baby close to you.
2. Avoid ‘containers’ or baby equipment such as swings, rockers and car seats as much as possible. Give baby time on the floor and allow her to learn how to move her body and turn her head from one side to the other.
3. Create early and healthy tummy time habits. Tummy time can be done from day one. For the first two weeks, it can easily be done on the parent’s chest. Tummy time is crucial to infant sensory and motor development.
4. Practice tummy time frequently, even if it is only for 10-15 seconds at a time. Gradually increase the time based on baby’s tolerance.
5. Make tummy time fun! Engage with your baby: talk to her, sing to her, provide stimulating toys and things to look at while she is on her tummy.
6. If tummy time is challenging try changing the position of baby. Try a nursing pillow, your lap, or an exercise ball.
- Juliana Plank PT, DPT and Allison Weiss MSOT, SWC are a team of pediatric physical and occupational therapists based in West Los Angeles. They developed the Tummies Together classes to help new Mamas and their babies thrive. They are passionate about prevention of infant motor delays and facilitating infant sensory experiences to facilitate optimal infant development. The Tummies Together series class offers moms a unique opportunity to participate in postpartum strengthening exercises along with infant sensory and motor education. They can be found on instagram @TummiesTogether or by email at TummiesTogether@gmail.com