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Plagiocephaly Early Detection, Alternatives to the Helmet

What is Plagiocephaly?

Plagiocephaly is a very common and treatable disorder. It causes a baby’s head to appear to be flattened. Plagiocephaly develops when an infant’s soft skull flattens or appears to be flat in one area, due to persistent pressure on one part of the head.

Technically, plagiocephaly is “a malformation of the head marked by an oblique slant to the main axis of the skull.” More recently, the term has been applied to any condition with a persistent flatten spot on the back or side of the head (otherwise known as flat head syndrome).

Should I Be Concerned?

Most babies’ heads will correct themselves within about six weeks; despite, many babies being born with an abnormally shaped head as a result of the pressure exerted on them during birth.

If your baby’s head remains asymmetrical beyond age 6 weeks, or if you start to notice a flat area after 6 weeks of age, you’ll want to see your baby’s doctor for referral to a specialist. (Babies with severe plagiocephaly may also have prominent foreheads, misaligned ears, and uneven facial features.)

Positional plagiocephaly is similar to and often mistaken for craniosynostosis, a more serious congenital condition in which one or more joints between the bones of the skull close up too early and the baby’s head becomes deformed.

Does My Baby Have to Wear A Helmut?

Early detection is key — Physical Therapy can produce results for Plagiocephaly when the condition is caught early enough.

If your baby’s case isn’t severe, your doctor or physical therapist may tell you to try several things at home to help your baby’s head round out. First, try to make sure your child spends plenty of time on his tummy (while supervised and awake) during the day to strengthen his neck muscles.

You may start out trying this for only a minute or two at a time. Stronger neck muscles will allow him to move his head around more during sleep, so that it doesn’t always rest in the same position.

What Else Can Be Done?

Your baby’s doctor may also recommend alternating your baby’s sleeping position from back to side. You can keep him from rolling onto the side where the flattening is by placing a rolled-up towel or blanket behind his head or by placing crib toys on the opposite side of the flat area to entice him to look in that direction.

You might also try putting him down to sleep in his crib with his head pointing in the opposite-from-usual direction. He’ll want to look out into the room and will probably flip his head over to do so, giving the flat side of his head a break from the mattress.

Also be sure to alternate his position from one side to the other while bottle or breastfeeding.

Watch Out For

Finally, try to be aware of how much time your baby spends in a car seat, stroller, infant carrier, bouncy seat, or infant swing in which he may be leaning back and putting pressure on his flat spot. Make sure you take him or her out of these devices for a good part of each day and hold him and give him plenty of tummy time instead.

BrightStar Can Help

If you think your baby might have Plagiocephaly, you should have them checked out as early as possible. At Bright STAR Physical Therapy, our staff can evaluate & provide physical therapy & guidance on how to help improve your child’s condition. We have 2 locations offering pediatric physical therapy in the San Fernando Valley — Woodland Hills, CA & Valley Village / North Hollywood, CA. Call our office today for a free consultation (818)343-3900. You can also visit our website at www.BrightSTARPT.com.

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