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15 Facts About Flat Head Baby Syndrome

A newborn's skull is soft and pliable because her skull bones are still growing. The seams of her skull won't fuse until she's older, to allow sufficient room for her brain to grow.  If she develops a flat spot on her skull (positional plagiocephaly), this can freak her parents out.

If her doctor is aware of the skull-flattening, he can monitor this and offer recommendations for the baby's family so that the flattening doesn't become severe. Remedies and practices that allow the baby to relieve constant pressure on the sides or back of her head can help.

Causes of flattened skull can include prematurity, being a multiple, the baby's sleeping position and twisted neck (torticollis), which forces the baby to sleep consistently with her head turned to one side.

If the condition isn't detected and measures taken to reduce the risk of a severe case, the baby's head and face may become distorted. This condition may also lead to delays in one or more areas of the baby's development.

The baby's pediatrician may prescribe a special helmet or headband to apply constant pressure to the baby's skull bones so skull growth is redirected. This treatment is only used for the most severe cases.

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15 The Baby Is Born Premature

The skull bones of a premature baby are even softer than those of a full-term baby—if at all possible. This means that they are more likely to develop flattened head syndrome. If the baby is extremely premature, she can't be taken out of her crib and held, simply because of how fragile she is, according to Kids Health.

Because of her early birth and any medical conditions she may have, the baby will be required to sleep on her back, 24 hours a day, with no position changes. She may be connected to an EKG machine to monitor her heartbeat. She may also be receiving her feedings through a feeding tube. Each of these treatment interventions means she has to stay on her back.

By the time she's strong enough to be taken from these machines, the back of her skull has long been flattened.

14 Always On Their Back

In 1992, alarmed by the number of infants and babies dying of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), pediatricians and several health care groups developed a set of safe sleeping guidelines for the families of babies to follow, says The Conversation.

The campaign was called "Back to Sleep" at first. Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders put out a policy statement defining this policy as a measure of reducing SIDS deaths, according to the National Institutes of Health. Since its start, the Safe to Sleep program has saved the lives of babies at risk of dying of SIDS.

As a result, a beneficial program and practice contributed to the prevalence of flat heads in infants. Its increase can be pinpointed to 1992, when the program started. Pediatricians and hospital nurseries now teach new parents to put their infants to sleep on their backs.

13 Not Changing The Baby's Head From Side To Side

"Shhh. She's finally asleep." "But we need to turn her head to the other side!" "Do you want her to wake up and cry for another hour?"

This is probably a nightly discussion between the parents of thousands of tiny babies. Once they have gotten them to sleep, they are totally against anything that may risk waking the baby up. But. . . sometimes, it's just gotta be done, especially if the baby already has a flattened head, says BabyGaga.

Once she's been asleep for at least 30 minutes, one parent can tenderly move her head to the other side. Of course, if she wakes up, they should put her back into her crib in a different position, so a different part of her head takes the pressure. This is another idea: Alternate sleeping positions with each nap for the baby.

12 Natural Births Can Be A Cause

Believe it or not, vaginal birth does lead to a change in the baby's skull shape, according to Baby Center. For a few weeks, her skull will have an odd shape. Because the bones of her skull are so thin and pliable, this allows her head to pass more easily through the birth canal. By six weeks of age, her skull should have resumed its normal shape.

If the baby's skull hasn't gone back to its normal shape and she spends a lot of time in bed, on her back, she is likely to be developing positional plagiocephaly.

If the baby's head is unusually large, that may also contribute to the misshapen appearance of her skull. And, if her parents don't know they need to take the time to get her off of her back, she'll develop the flat skull.

11 Ever Heard Of Torticollis?

Also called torticollis, twisted neck forces the young baby to keep her head in one position when she's lying down, according to Kids Health. Result: A flattened skull where her head is resting against the mattress. A twisted neck is easy to spot. The baby's shoulder is pressed up against her cheek and ear, forcing her to assume only one position.

This is more likely to happen with multiple babies in one pregnancy. The lack of room in mom's uterus forces the babies to take odd, cramped-up positions. One or more of the babies may develop a twisted neck.

Because their neck muscles have "frozen" in one position, they find it difficult or even painful to try and move their heads into a different position. These are the babies who are most likely to wind up being prescribed special helmets to help their skulls to re-form into the correct orientation.

10 The Position Of Mom's Uterus

Before the baby is born, her mother's uterus position can affect her favorite sleeping positions, according to The Scope (the University of Utah's radio health program). Every baby has a favorite, most comfortable sleeping position after birth. This may be from the position of mom's uterus. When the baby is placed into her crib, she will resume that position for comfortable sleep.

The parents, wanting their baby to sleep peacefully, don't worry about changing her position. Over time, one side or the back of her skull will begin to flatten out while the rest of her skull continues to grow.

Mom and dad need to become attentive to the baby's growing skull and her preferred sleeping position. If they see that she chooses one side over the other, they will be right to become concerned.

9 Is The Baby A Multiple?

According to BabyGaga, a baby is at high risk of developing positional plagiocephaly if she is one of twins, triplets or even more babies. Because room in mom's uterus is so limited, as the babies grow, they become ever more cramped. One or more of the babies will have its head pressed against the wall of mom's uterus, leading to the flattened skull, according to Kids Health.

Mom's uterus isn't the only culprit. One of the other babies may be the unmoving object the baby rests against. Or mom's pelvis may be that resting spot. If mom is having triplets, quadruplets or (gasp!) even more babies, several of her children may have skulls that are flattened in one area. Once the babies are born, medical staff will see the issue and develop recommendations for the parents.

8 Born In The Breech Position

If the baby is positioned in the uterus with its legs facing down, it's in the breech position. This puts her at higher risk of having a flattened skull if her head is wedged under her ribs, according to Baby Center.

The midwife or obstetrician may not notice this right away. Until the baby is repositioned before birth, her skull will continue to take the shape of mom's ribcage.

If mom has to undergo a C-section, she is at risk of having a baby who already has a flattened skull. In this case, the baby's pediatrician will make several recommendations to the parents and monitor the growth of the baby's skull. Hopefully, it won't be necessary for the baby to begin to wear a special helmet, especially if mom and dad do everything they can to keep her skull from remaining flattened.

7 External Pressures

LAJES FIELD, Azores -- Morgan "Jetta Boy" Damron was born on the highway in his father's Jetta on the way to a Portuguese hospital. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff. Sgt. Todd Damron)

Right after birth, the baby's skull is very malleable—that is, it can change shape. When she's lying on her back for most of the day and night, her skull will begin conforming to the flatness of the mattress. When she's not in her crib, she's lying on the floor, in her swing, car seat or rocker, according to The Conversation.

Knowing this, mom and dad can do their part with simple techniques that help to relieve the pressure of hard surfaces on the baby's skull. Keep the baby out of her crib for as long as she is willing to do. Read to her, talk to her and play with her.

When they are holding her or feeding her, mom and dad should change her positions often. If she's lying with her head on their left elbow, they should reposition her so her head is resting in their right elbow.

6 Is The Baby A Good Sleeper?

While some babies are restless sleepers, moving all over the crib during sleep, other babies sleep so heavily that they don't move very much from their original sleep position.

A few months after the baby's birth, mom or dad may notice a developing flat spot. Naturally, they are alarmed and tell the baby's doctor. He is also concerned, so he begins to monitor the growth of the flattened spot.

If he hasn't verified this, he will remind the baby's parents to put her to sleep on her back, 100 percent of the time. As she gets older and more able to move around and change position, she may wind up on her side once or twice during the night. This is fine—her parents don't have to roll her to her back again. In fact, this ability to change sleeping positions may actually protect the baby's soft skull bones.

5 Overlooking Tummy Time

This is a practice that pediatricians are recommending for their young patients. This daily activity helps parents to keep their baby's head from becoming too flat, says BabyGaga.

While the baby won't be able to lift her head from the blanket at first, she is resting her head on one side—not the back of her head. This alone gives the back of the skull a little time to rest from the constant pressure of lying in a crib or car seat.

As the baby grows and gets a little stronger, she will be able to raise her head and neck. As she holds her head up for 30, 45 or even 60 seconds at a time, she's strengthening her neck and shoulder muscles. Looking down the road a little, this prepares her for other developmental accomplishments, such as crawling.

4 Waiting It Out

No! Can Do Kiddo says that this is exactly the wrong approach. When a parent notices that their baby is developing a flattened spot on one area of her skull, their guts tell them that this is a problem.

And, they are right. By just "waiting and watching," the pediatrician is allowing a problem to become bigger. While he may think it's just an aesthetic issue that affects the baby's appearance, her ability to develop is impacted.

Even if the baby isn't fitted for a special helmet, her parents can do things at home that will allow them to correct the situation. By the time it's gotten to the helmet stage, the flattening has become severe and must be taken care of, right away. So, parents should do everything they can to lessen the time their baby spends on her back or preferred side.

3 Certain Brain Conditions

It's called "craniosynosotosis," and when diagnosed, means the baby will need surgery so the brain can develop normally. With this issue, the baby's skull bones fuse too early, according to Baby Center. Because the baby's brain is going to grow so much, that surgery is necessary so her brain won't be crowded and damaged.

One symptom of craniosynosotosis is a misshapen skull, according to the Mayo Clinic. At least one cranial suture is affected. If several are affected, the condition is "complex craniosynosotosis." Depending on which suture is fusing too early, the baby's brain will grow wherever the sutures remain open.

If this condition has developed in other family members, it's genetic. In these cases, it's known as a "syndromic craniosynosotosis."

Once the baby has undergone surgery and the brain is able to grow and develop normally, she should be able to reach her developmental milestones as expected.

2 Low Muscle Tone

Prematurely born babies may suffer from low muscle tone. This means their muscles don't have the strength they need to move normally. In the case of the baby's neck muscles, she is too weak to raise or move her head, says Baby Center.

If this happens, she is at much higher risk of developing a flattened skull at the back of her head. Her parents will have to spend much more time, holding her in a sitting position, supporting her weak neck muscles and giving her plenty of tummy time.

Even though the baby won't be able to raise or turn her head because of low muscle tone, allowing her to spend some of her waking time on her tummy can reduce some of that pressure on the back of her head. This allows her skull to begin to move back into its normal, rounded position.

1 The Way The Baby Was Born

If mom has a difficult delivery, this can affect the shape and appearance of her baby's skull, according to Healthy Children. Depending on how the baby was positioned, she can develop a flattened skull on one area of her head.

The baby's head shape can also be affected if her delivery is slowed. When this happens, the obstetrician may have to resort  to using forceps or vacuum extraction to deliver the baby. These external forces will exert too much pressure on the baby's soft skull.

As the doctor presses the forceps around the baby's skull, they press hard on the bones. This instrument is much more likely to cause a flattened appearance of one or both sides of the baby's skull. Vacuum extraction, on the other hand, is more likely to cause a "cone head" appearance in the baby's skull.

References: KidsHealth.com, the conversation.com, nih.gov, babycenter.com, babygaga.com, candokiddo.com, mayoclinic.org, healthychildren.org, Growing Your Baby, What to Expect When You're Expecting, The Fertile Chick, Pregnancy & Baby, Kids Plus Pediatrics, Baby Center Blog, Boots WebMD, Dad's Guide to Twins, St. Luke's Health System, New Kids Center, Dallas Pediatric Plastic Surgeon, Craniofacial Surgeon, Cleft Lip, mom.me.com, sarahsvoice.wordpress.com, pinterest.com, cbsnews.com,

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