Getting A Better Understanding Of Plagiocephaly

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

The first few months of parenthood are always the hardest.

You’ve got a lot on your plate, and a host of worries to match.

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.

Plagiocephaly, or flat head syndrome, on the other hand, rarely makes this list.

If you’ve never heard of plagiocephaly, you’ve come to the right place.

A 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 to prevent and treat it.

Keep reading to find out 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’re left in certain positions for too long.

Plagiocephaly, a type of flat head syndrome, is one potential result of this.

According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, plagiocephaly commonly occurs when a baby sleeps in the same position for too long.

It typically 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 your baby’s head may appear similar to a parallelogram.

How Can I Tell If My Baby Has Plagiocephaly?

Most parents notice the warning signs of plagiocephaly fairly easily.

If your child has plagiocephaly, you may notice that:

  • Their ear on the flattened side appears pushed forward
  • The back of their head is flatter on one side
  • They have less hair on the flattened side of their head
  • Their face is asymmetrical
  • Their forehead bulges on one side

How Does A Pediatric Physical Therapist Diagnose Plagiocephaly?

In most cases, your child’s medical team can diagnose plagiocephaly without medical testing.

A physical therapist can generally tell if flat head syndrome is present by looking at the shape of your 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.

RELATED: How To Tell If Your Child Has Infant Torticollis

Torticollis can result in your baby favoring one side over the other while sleeping, which can lead to plagiocephaly.

What Causes Plagiocephaly?

Several factors may contribute to the development of plagiocephaly.

In the next section, we’ll take a closer look at a few of them.

1. Premature Birth

The final weeks of pregnancy are incredibly important for your baby’s bone development.

As a result, babies born prematurely typically have softer skulls than babies brought to full term.

RELATED: Speech Issues Common In Premature Babies

RELATED: Pediatric Rehabilitation Therapy For Health Complications In Premature Babies

Hence, physical therapy for premature babies often incorporate plagiocephaly therapy.

2. Multiple Births

A 1999 study by Littlefield et al. found that twins and triplets are more likely to experience plagiocephaly.

The reason for this is fairly straight forward.

The more babies you carry in your womb, the less room each baby has to grow and develop.

As a result, the skulls of these babies have more pressure on them than single birth babies.

This can cause plagiocephaly.

3. Skull Pressure

As we previously mentioned, all babies are born with a soft spot on their head.

This soft spot serves a few purposes.

For one, it makes labor and birth easier.

Since your baby’s skull is more malleable, it can change shape slightly as necessary to aid in the birthing process.

Additionally, the soft spot on your baby’s head aids in its growth.

Your baby’s skull grows rapidly during their first few months of life.

The soft spot on their head provides ample space for their skull to grow.

Thus, consistent skull pressure can influence how your baby’s head grows and ultimately 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?

Plagiocephaly is sometimes confused with brachycephaly, another type of flat head syndrome.

Babies with brachycephaly generally present with unusually wide foreheads, especially when compared to their depths.

Additionally, the condition typically causes flattening and bulging across the back of the skull, as opposed to on one side as in most plagiocephaly cases.

How To Prevent Plagiocephaly

In some cases, plagiocephaly occurs before birth due to the baby’s positioning in utero.

Unfortunately, this type of plagiocephaly is unpreventable, however, there are certain steps parents and caregivers can take to help prevent positional plagiocephaly.

Let’s take a closer look.

1. Encourage Tummy Time

Tummy time is an excellent way to encourage your baby to lay on their stomach and thus prevent plagiocephaly.

Additionally, tummy time helps babies develop the neck and shoulder muscles necessary to move around, as opposed to constantly laying in the same position.

RELATED: Understanding Gross Motor Skills

One method you can use to help encourage your baby to move their head is playing “follow my voice”.

To play, turn your baby away from you and 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.

Therefore, it’s important that you hold your baby as much as possible.

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 their head.

3. Change How Your Baby Lies In Their Crib

How do you sleep?

Most people tend to favor sleeping in one position, such as their back, side, or stomach.

Babies are no different.

You can help your baby move while sleeping by gently changing their head position every few hours.

This simple step can help prevent plagiocephaly.

If you notice flat head syndrome developing, place your baby with their flattened side facing up.

Avoid using pillows or other devices which claim to help prevent flat head syndrome in a crib, as they can lead to sudden infant death syndrome.

How Is Plagiocephaly Treated?

Treatment for plagiocephaly closely reflect the methods used in its prevention.

Holding your baby more, tummy time, and changing sleeping positions are all effective solutions for flat head syndrome in infants.

If torticollis is present, a physical therapist at District Speech can help with stretching exercises.

These often involve exercises aimed at stretching the neck in the opposite direction of the way it’s tilted.

Additionally, some babies may benefit from wearing a special helmet for plagiocephaly.

These helmets are tighter in the area where the head is round, and looser in flat areas, thereby encouraging growth.

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

RELATED: Important Pediatric Physical Therapy Milestones

These delays may impact a variety of areas, such as:

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.

At District Speech and Language Therapy, we not only provide speech therapy in DC but our qualified pediatric physical therapists can help screen and provide solutions for flat head syndrome too.

Book your appointment with District Speech today to find out more about the ways we can help you and your family.

District Speech and Language Therapy
1300 I St NW, Suite 400 E,
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.