Prevention of Flat Head Syndrome
Which babies are likely to develop flat head syndrome?
Babies who lie for long periods with their head to one side repeatedly are highly likely to develop a flattening on that side. These babies fall into one of two groups:
In the first group the babies have a particular side to which they constantly turn their head. These babies have a condition called ‘torticollis’ in which the neck muscles on one side of the neck will become tighter than the other. (This requires treatment in its own right). The neck muscles are not yet developed and movement will become restricted.
Once a flat spot has started to develop the baby will tend to rotate it's head back to lying on the flat spot, making the problem worse.
If these babies are breast fed the mother often, when asked, recalls that her baby always seems to feed better on one of her sides, namely the opposite breast of the mother to the side to which the baby is able to rotate.
In the second group the babies are placid and are happy to be left either lying on their back with head to one side or left in a car seat/bouncy chair.
These babies appear quiet and happy and so are left for long periods of time thereby increasing the likelihood of head flattening.
NB Babies who cry a lot and therefore move around a lot are much less like to develop head shape problems because they are always on the move!
Prevention of Flat Head Syndrome
You should try and encourage the baby not to sleep in the same position for long periods. This means:
Carrying your baby more with the head supported in your arms
Moving your baby’s head and position from time to time to avoid too much pressure on one point
Give your baby 'tummy time' during the day while they are awake and supervised
However, many parents find that carrying their baby a lot isn't practical and regularly moving your baby when it is sleeping can have some unwanted consequences!!
Specialist pillows or specialist mattresses.
The SleepCurve baby mattress range is designed with a curve to support your baby’s head without too much pressure on one spot – see the image below, courtesy of Alder Hey Children’s hospital.
The SleepCurve mattresses allow your baby to move its head freely and distributes the pressure more evenly across the skull.
Baby on a SleepCurve mattress compared with a flat mattress:
By spreading the weight of the babies head over a wider area the pressure on scull bones is significantly reduced - see the pressure map provided by Alder Hey. This will help to ensure that your baby doesn't develop Plagiocephaly or Brachycephaly. (Clinical trials have shown that these mattresses can actually be used to treat Flat head syndrome).
Specialist pillows can also be used to reduce the risk of developing flat spots. They shouldn't be used instead of a mattress as pillows are more likely to move at night and they tend to raise the head position which pushes the babies chin towards the chest which can restrict the airways(Try moving your head forward and you will see what I mean). Pillows have not been tested in clinical trials (unlike the SleepCurve mattress) but they can be useful to carry around when you are going away or if you leave your baby with a child minder during the day.