Getting A Better Understanding Of Plagiocephaly

Getting A Better Understanding Of Plagiocephaly | District Speech & Language Therapy | Washington D.C. & Arlington VA

As a parent or caregiver for a newborn baby, you’ve got a lot on your mind.

Some of the most common worries for new parents include knowing when to make a visit to the doctor and when to let things pass on their own, wondering whether baby is gaining enough weight, if their poop is normal, and why they won’t stop crying.

Something which can be an issue, which many parents don’t often consider though is flat head syndrome, or plagiocephaly.

A Washington DC physical therapist for flat head syndrome can help, but more on that in a moment.

Today we’ll give you an overview of what plagiocephaly is, some of its causes, and ways it can be prevented and treated.

Keep reading to learn more.

What Is Plagiocephaly?

Most people know that babies are born with a “soft spot” on their head where their bones haven’t completely formed.

As a result of this soft spot, a baby’s head can change shape easily if they are left in certain positions for too long – and one example of this is plagiocephaly, a type of flat head syndrome.

Typically, plagiocephaly presents as flattening on one side of the back of the head, and bulging on the opposite side.

In moderate to severe cases, the shape of the head may appear similar to a parallelogram.

How Can You Tell If Your Baby Has Plagiocephaly?

Flat head syndrome is usually easy for parents to notice, and some of the signs include:

  • The ear on the flattened side appears pushed forward
  • The back of the head is flatter on one side
  • Less hair on the flattened side of the head
  • Asymmetry of the face
  • Bulging of the forehead on one side

How Does A Pediatric Physical Therapist Diagnose Plagiocephaly?

In most cases, a medical test is not required to diagnose plagiocephaly.

A physical therapist can generally tell if flat head syndrome is present just by looking at the shape of the baby’s head.

They may also test for torticollis, a condition in which the neck twists to one side due to injury or tightening of the neck muscles.

Torticollis can result in a baby favoring one side over the other while sleeping, leading to plagiocephaly.

What Causes Plagiocephaly?

There are a variety of factors which can contribute to the development of plagiocephaly.

Some of these include:

Being Born Premature

The final weeks of pregnancy are important for the development of bones

As a result, the skulls of premature babies are often even softer than those of babies brought to full term.

Physical therapy treatments for premature babies often include treatments for plagiocephaly.

Multiple Births

When you carry two or more babies, there is less room in your womb.

As a result, there is often greater pressure placed on their skulls as they develop.

This can cause plagiocephaly.

Skull Pressure

Babies have a soft spot on their head.

This is one of the factors that makes birth easier, as their skull is more malleable and can change shape slightly as necessary.

It’s also because they grow so quickly in the first few months of their life.

Once you reach adulthood, your skull is finished growing, so it can harden without worry.

But as a baby, your skull needs to be a little softer to allow space for it to grow.

This, combined with consistent pressure in one spot of the skull – like baby always lying on their back – can lead to plagiocephaly.

how a physical therapist can help with plagiocephaly | District Speech & Language Therapy | Washington D.C. & Arlington VA

What’s The Difference Between Plagiocephaly And Brachycephaly?

Although plagiocephaly and brachycephaly are both types of flat head syndrome, it’s important to distinguish them as it will affect how it’s treated.

Brachycephaly is when the baby’s head is unusually wide, especially when compared to its depth.

In brachycephaly, flattening generally occurs across the back of the skull, as opposed to on one side as in plagiocephaly.

There may also be bulging at the front of the skull, as opposed to on one side.

Plagiocephaly, on the other hand, is characterized by an asymmetrical head shape, with flattening on one side.

How To Prevent Plagiocephaly

Sometimes plagiocephaly occurs before birth, as a result of the baby’s positioning in utero.

This type of plagiocephaly can’t be prevented, however, there are things parents and caregivers can do in order to help prevent positional plagiocephaly.

Let’s have a look at some ways to help prevent flat head syndrome.

1. Encourage Tummy Time

Spending time on their stomach can help prevent flat head syndrome from developing when a baby spends too much side lying on their back during the early months of their life.

Tummy time helps babies develop neck and shoulder muscles, which help them to look around more, rather than always laying in the same position.

Encourage your baby to move their head by facing them away from you, and then speak to them to get them to turn towards you.

2. Hold Your Baby

The more time a baby spends with their head resting against a flat surface such as a stroller or car seat, the more likely they are to develop plagiocephaly because of the pressure faced on their head.

You may also want to consider wearing your baby – using a sling, wrap, or baby carrier as an alternative to a stroller, to help prevent pressure on the head.

3. Change How Baby Lies In Their Crib

Think about how you sleep.

You likely tend to favor sleeping in one particular position – and the same goes for babies.

While they are sleeping, change their head position to avoid plagiocephaly from developing on one side.

If you notice flat head syndrome developing, place them with the flattened side facing up.

It’s important to remember not to use pillows or other devices which may claim to help prevent flat head syndrome in a crib, as they can lead to sudden death.

How Is Plagiocephaly Treated?

If a baby has plagiocephaly, many of the treatments are similar to the ways we have described above which can be used to prevent it – holding baby more, tummy time, and changing sleeping positions.

In addition, if the cause is determined to be related to torticollis, your physical therapist will teach you stretching exercises to do with your baby.

These often involve exercises to stretch the neck in the opposite direction of the way it’s tilted.

Special helmets can also be used; these are designed to be tighter in the area where the head is round, and looser where it’s flat to encourage growth in the flat area.

A recent study found that babies with plagiocephaly have a higher risk of developmental delays as well.

These can include:

As a result, it’s important to seek early intervention for your baby’s physical therapy treatments.

Your pediatric physical therapist may recommend you see a speech therapist for kids as well to deal with these issues.

Book Your Appointment With District Speech Today

Are you noticing asymmetry in your new baby’s head?

Perhaps you’re noticing them favoring one side over the other, and you’re worried about the possibility of developing plagiocephaly.

We’re District Speech in Washington DC, and we have qualified pediatric physical therapists on staff who can help diagnose and treat flat head syndrome.

Contact us today for a consultation.

District Speech and Language Therapy
1300 I St NW, #400E,
Washington, DC 20005


District Speech and Language Therapy specializes in speech therapy, physical therapy, and occupational therapy solutions, for both children and adults, in the Washington D.C and the Arlington Virginia areas.