What is Flat Head Syndrome and How Can We Prevent It?

by Dr Keevara Raidoo

Plagiocephaly or ‘Flat head syndrome’ is a condition that results in a baby’s head becoming flat or misshapen.

This can happen due to a number of different factors which can sometimes be out of our control, some of these factors include:

  • The baby’s position in the uterus or intrauterine constraint
  • Being laid to sleep or being fed in one position all the time
  • A difficult birth or the use of tools such as forceps or vacuums during the birth process
  • Muscle dysfunction i.e. tension or torticollis (a condition where the neck becomes persistently tilted and turned to one side)
  • Spending extended periods of time lying on their back or in containers such as car seats and strollers

Now, if you’ve read this and start frantically searching for pictures or want to rush over to your baby to try and find flat spots on their head… I want you to take a step back and breathe (iiiin & ooout).

What is flat head syndrome and how to prevent it

When we see flat head syndromes in practice and start chatting to moms and dads about it, we often notice the immense guilt that washes over their faces. Thoughts about what they could’ve done to prevent this and feeling terrible that their baby now has a misshapen head. What we need to remember in these moments is that flat head syndromes have an immense number of possible causes, a lot of which are completely out of our control.

As parents, we need to try our best to ensure that we are doing what we can in order to prevent this from happening but also work with qualified health practitioners to screen, reposition and help our babies overcome their flat spots.


So what can we do as parents and caregivers to prevent this from happening?

Limit car seat time – babies should only be placed in car seats while in the car!
Car seats do not offer proper support to the head and neck while baby sleeps, this leads to uneven pressure being put on one part of the skull and this can potentially lead to flat spots if used excessively.

Emphasise tummy time
Tummy time is a super important tool to use in order to develop baby’s neck and back muscle strength. Allowing your baby’s wake time to be spent on their tummy will allow their neck muscles to strengthen and allow them to improve their head control which will help to prevent plagiocephaly.

Remember, tummy time is not easy for your baby, it will be a challenge at the beginning but persistence and patience is key in ensuring that your baby develops this very important skill. At 4 months old your baby should be doing a total of 80 minutes of tummy time a day (broken up into 3-4 sessions)

You can read more about tummy time here.

Switch head positions when baby sleeps and feeds
A baby’s skull is very soft and mouldable, allowing for the rapid growth that takes place in the first 2 years of life as well as making sure that they can fit through the birth canal. This is the reason why excessive force placed on one spot may lead to a flattening of the skull in that area.

Turning your baby’s head from side to side with every nap and every feed will allow the weight of their head to be evenly distributed.

Carry babies more often
Carrying your baby in a carrier or sling not only develops strong neck muscles and facilitates bonding but is a big tool in helping prevent a flat head. Research has shown that babies who are carried in kangaroo-type carriers in their formative months have been proven to cry 40% less than babies who were not carried. (Shouldn’t that be reason enough to keep your baby close?)

Should you suspect that your baby has a flat spot or misshapen head, contact a Chiropractor with a special interest in Paediatrics to assess and advise you on the steps going forward.

If you have made it this far, you are 10 steps closer to helping prevent a flat head in your baby. Prevention is always easier than a cure and we just want to let you know that you are doing an amazing job with your little one!

Posted in