Does your baby spend a lot of time lying in the same position? Have they struggled with a condition like torticollis or premature birth? Did they have to use forceps on your baby during birth?

If so, these are just some of the causes of flat head syndrome. Thought it may sound made up, flat head syndrome is an umbrella term used to describe a number of different conditions that can affect your baby. Each of them has a similar result, however – giving your baby an unusually shaped head.

Though it may seem alarming to notice your baby’s head is flattening, don’t panic, pediatric physical therapy can help.

Here at District Speech, we not only specialize in speech therapy, we provide other integrative pediatric developmental therapy treatments to assist your child in overcoming their challenges.

Let’s take a closer look at the different types of flat head syndrome and how pediatric physical therapy can help.

What Is Plagiocephaly?

Plagiocephaly is a specific type of flat head syndrome. With plagiocephaly, your baby’s head becomes flat on either the back or the sides, which can cause it to look asymmetrical. It can also distort your baby’s features, so their eyes or ears aren’t aligned with each other for example.

It can be caused by baby spending too much time lying in one position. This is known as positional plagiocephaly

Plagiocephaly can also occur in utero. It’s more common among pregnancies with two or more babies, or when your amniotic sac doesn’t have enough fluid. In this case, it’s known as congenital plagiocephaly.

If you gave birth to a premature baby, your child is at greater risk of developing plagiocephaly. This is because they’re more likely to lack the muscle strength necessary to move their heads and necks around as much.

What Is Brachycephaly?

Brachycephaly is a type of flat head syndrome with very similar symptoms and causes as plagiocephaly.

The primary difference between brachycephaly vs plagiocephaly is that brachycephaly is a flattening of the back of your baby’s skull. It causes your baby’s head to widen in compensation, and sometimes the front of their skull may bulge out as well.

What Is Scaphocephaly?

Scaphocephaly is a type of flat head syndrome where the side of your baby’s skull is flattened, which elongates it.

It’s common for premature babies to experience scaphocephaly in the neonatal ICU, since they spend a lot of time on their side for treatment. It can also occur in utero.

Does your baby have an unusually shaped head? Don't worry!

Pediatric physical therapy treatments can help.

Why Does Flat Head Syndrome Happen?

We looked at the causes of each type of flat head syndrome above. But why is this possible in the first place?

When your baby is first born, their skull hasn’t yet solidified as much as an adult’s skull. A human skull is made up of several plates of bone, and they’re designed to be able to expand as your baby grows. They fuse as your baby gets older, becoming the hard skull that protects your adult brain.

As a result, your baby’s skull is more malleable. If there’s constant pressure on one part of your baby’s head for an extended period of time, that can cause a flattening of that area.

Complications From Flat Head Syndrome

Flat head syndrome is obviously a cosmetic issue. Babies with flat heads can have distorted features which can cause difficulties for them as they grow.

In more extreme cases, flat head syndrome can lead to complications like:

  • Poor motor skills development
  • Delayed muscle development
  • Poor speech development – pediatric speech therapists often treat babies with flat head syndrome
  • Difficulty maintaining balance
  • Impaired hearing
  • Impaired vision
  • Social anxiety
  • Delayed intellectual development

The good news is that there’s no evidence to suggest flat head syndrome will cause your baby any pain or discomfort.

How Does A Pediatric Physical Therapist Diagnose Flat Head Syndrome?

If you notice your baby’s skull has an unusual shape, book an appointment with a pediatric physical therapist at District Speech. Your pediatric physical therapist will evaluate your baby to find out what’s causing their flat head syndrome. This may include:

  • A physical examination of your baby’s head
  • Your baby’s muscle development
  • Your baby’s range of movement
  • Your baby’s ability to hold their head up with their neck muscles
  • Your baby’s ability to follow movement with their eyes
  • Your baby’s health history
  • Asking you about how you and others care for your baby

They will also test for different conditions, including torticollis, which is a common cause of flat head syndrome.

From there, they will recommend pediatric physical therapy treatments, which may include treatment for torticollis as well as your baby’s particular flat head syndrome.

How Can Pediatric Physical Therapy Help With Flat Head Syndrome?

Once your pediatric physical therapist has diagnosed your baby with a specific type of flat head syndrome, they’ll offer a treatment plan.

This may include a number of different treatments.

A key approach is education. Your pediatric physical therapist will teach you how to reposition your baby in ways that help their skull develop a more normal shape, without causing harm. Some parents might notice their baby developing flat head syndrome and believe the solution is to place them on their stomach. While “tummy time” is important, babies sleeping on their stomachs is a common cause of SIDS – sudden infant death syndrome.

Your pediatric physical therapist may also recommend devices like a remolding helmet to redirect your baby’s skull growth.

Flat head syndrome is often accompanied by tight neck muscles, difficulty moving, and decreased muscle strength. Your pediatric physical therapist will work on this as well.

When Should My Baby See A Pediatric Physical Therapist For Flat Head Syndrome?

It’s a good idea to see a pediatric physical therapist fairly quickly.

Your pediatrician might actually diagnose your baby in the hospital if it’s congenital. In that case, it’s a good idea to see a pediatric physical therapist as soon as possible.

Either way, it’s a good idea to seek treatment for flat head syndrome as soon as you notice symptoms. As with many things, early intervention is key.

Book Your Appointment With District Speech Today

Are you noticing your baby’s head is growing in unusual ways?

Has your pediatrician suggested you speak to a pediatric physical therapist?

If so, pediatric physical therapy services for flat head syndrome can help.

Book your appointment at District Speech, and and our team of therapists in DC can help.

Flat head syndrome might seem alarming, but in most cases it’s fully treatable with physical therapy.

Flat head syndrome isn't as scary as you may think.

Our physical therapists have solutions that can help.