When Is It Too Late To Fix Flat Head? You Still Have Options

when is it too late to fix flat head

You always want your child to lead a happy and normal life so being worried about your baby is completely normal. A common concern is related to flat head syndrome. No child has a perfectly round head as the skull bones are not joined, and as the baby grows, the bones come together into a round shape automatically. 

Generally, babies tend to outgrow flat heads without any external intervention due to the natural fusion of bones as they grow. However, sometimes treatment is necessary and after one year to fourteen months, it is usually too late for treatment. One of the most effective interventions or treatments is using a helmet between six and twelve months of age. In this article, we are going to address all your fears and concerns around flat head syndrome and how to treat it appropriately. 

What Is Flat Head Syndrome?

The term “flat head syndrome” (plagiocephaly) refers to an unbalanced or lopsided head shape. It can also be a flat area on the side or back of a baby’s head. Cases of plagiocephaly are classified as mild, moderate, or severe. It is very common for babies to have deformed heads because of the intra-uterine positioning of the head during pregnancy or the transit through the birth canal. 

Babies Grow Out of Flat Head Naturally!

The skull bones of a newborn are delicate, thin, and malleable. This implies that a newborn’s head can readily alter form. Plagiocephaly can occur when newborns sleep while keeping the head in one position for a long duration. Stiffened muscles of the neck (also known as congenital muscular torticollis) can result in more severe plagiocephaly in certain babies, which will result in the baby having a strong tendency to move his or her head to one side.

Don’t Wait Too Long

When a baby turns one year old, his or her skull begins to solidify. Mild head abnormalities that are not subjected to treatment before the child’s first birthday may be more difficult or time-consuming to repair. Once the child turns eighteen months old, it might be too late to fix the issues without surgery. Surgery to correct the deformity is only achievable in a few circumstances but because it has the potential to be dangerous, only a few doctors advise it.

What Is the Most Effective Treatment?

The best way to fix a flat head is to make the baby wear a helmet. Helmet treatment is used to gradually correct the shape of newborns’ skulls. The skulls of newborn babies are fragile plates that normally have gaps between them. As the infant grows, these plates naturally expand, stiffen, and join together. When a baby is laying in only one position for long durations, the soft plates acquire an uneven appearance or a flat patch. 

Flat head syndrome, or plagiocephaly, is considered to be a common disorder and it is not harmful to the brain of your little one. However, if the problem does not gradually go away on its own, your doctor may advise you to try certain exercises or repositioning, or they may refer your baby for helmet therapy. 

As your child’s head develops, adjustments to the helmet are routinely monitored. The helmet offers a firm and circular space for the baby’s head to grow naturally. Moreover, while using the helmet, if your child lays on one side for longer durations, the cushioning feature will protect the head from flattening even further. 

The duration of flat head syndrome helmet treatment typically lasts three months, but it will depend on how severe the problem is and how old your child is. If you want to ensure that the baby’s head is developing normally and naturally, it is important to monitor it carefully. 

What Happens If Flat Head Isn’t Treated?

What Happens If Flat Head Isn't Treated?

The heads of babies with untreated plagiocephaly may not recover to a perfect shape, but they will be less noticeable when they have reached the age of a year or two. Moreover, the overall appearance of the babies’ head shapes will also improve once they are more active and have hair growth. 

Flat head syndrome babies have a great rate of living a normal life. They either grow out of it naturally or have it corrected through therapy. Moderate cases of a flat head are unlikely to interfere with brain development or function.

However, children who have severe cases of plagiocephaly run the danger of experiencing developmental, neurological, or psychiatric issues if they are not addressed.

  • Babies with severe plagiocephalies, such as craniosynostosis, will almost certainly require medical monitoring to treat existing or new difficulties. They may also benefit from counseling if they have low self-esteem.
  • Research comparing the development of toddlers with and without deformational plagiocephaly (DP) discovered that when evaluated against unaffected, demographically similar toddlers, toddlers with DP scored worse on all sections of the Bayley Scales of Infant and Toddler Development, Third Edition. Even though this research did not prove a causal association, it does point to the necessity for more developmental monitoring.
  • Adults with plagiocephaly may have practical issues in sports and daily life since they are unable to use various forms of protective headgear for sports such as bicycling and rock climbing. Because most helmets and equipment are designed to fit a “normal” skull shape, adults with moderate to severe flat head syndrome may be unable to use helmets.
  • Furthermore, if someone has drastically misaligned ears, which is occasionally the case in severe flat head syndrome, they may have difficulty wearing glasses on a daily basis. Adults may also find it challenging to enter their chosen careers since they are unable to wear conventional head protection. This includes people interested in working in construction, emergency services, and the military forces.

Is Flat Head Treatment Purely Cosmetic?

A prevalent misconception is that a baby’s flat head treatment is only cosmetic. Plagiocephaly has been shown to have short-term effects.

Between three to six months (average):

  • 20% exhibited minor psychomotor delays.
  • Thirteen percent reported substantial psychomotor delays.
  • In the overall population, the average delay is 7%.
  • Infants with deformational plagiocephaly have considerable deficits in both mental and psychomotor development prior to any intervention.

From six months onward, abnormalities in muscle tone and motor function (i.e. delayed milestones) were seen.

The following issues have been documented as a result of long-term research on plagiocephaly :

  • Almost everyone has an increased risk of auditory processing problems.
  • 35 percent increased risk of visual processing problems
  • Increased likelihood of needing learning aid
  • Increased demand for a specialized class, such as reading recovery
  • At the age of five, 33% had received learning aid.
  • 14 percent were classified as special.
  • In elementary school, 39.7 percent of children with chronic deformational plagiocephaly got special assistance.
  • Only 7.7 percent of siblings needed as much assistance as those with positional plagiocephaly.
  • 51 percent have delayed language development by the age of 3.5.
  • Children who experienced developmental deficits in infancy and plagiocephaly had continued developmental challenges during preschool.

Flat Head Syndrome Treatment Without Helmet

Babies’ skulls do not entirely fuse until they are about eighteen months old.

At about two months, the fontanelle, or soft region on the back of the skull, will shut. The anterior fontanelle, or top of the skull, will shut around nine to eighteen months.

During this time, flat head syndrome treatment can be done without using a helmet.

Tummy Time

The earlier you begin tummy time for your healthy, full-term baby, the better. Tummy time will not only address their positional flat head but also assist strengthen their neck. Tummy time can be just putting your baby up to your chest. Maintain this posture for your infant with no pressure on the flattening side of the head.

Neck Stretches

This activity requires a doctor’s permission and expert guidance. Do not attempt to engage your baby in any stretching exercises you find with research online. 

Stretching activities are great for strengthening the neck muscles of newborns with torticollis. It will include a series of activities to enhance the range of motion of the baby’s neck. The majority of movements that will be prescribed by experts involve extending the neck to the opposite side of the tilt.

Over time, the neck muscles will lengthen and the neck will straighten. The activities are straightforward, but they must be carried out properly.

Head Shaping Pillows

Many new parents consider purchasing a flat head syndrome cushion. However, before purchasing or utilizing a plagiocephaly cushion, it is critical to study the medical information regarding them.

The flat head pillow goes against NHS safety recommendations and the American Department of Health’s Safe to Sleep guidelines. Both suggest that newborns sleep on their backs on a level, sturdy surface without:

  • Duvets
  • Quilts
  • Bedding rolls 
  • Blankets
  • Pillows (including a flat head pillow) 

The major reason for this is that if a baby’s face becomes forced against any such item, he or she will be unable to pull themselves up, increasing the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).

DockATot For Plagiocephaly

DockATot reduces the danger and occurrence of flat head by being made of a special fiber with a high weight-bearing capacity, which relieves pressure on the baby’s head.

The side bumpers provide additional support and may be used to prop up your kid while they alternate between lying on their back and conducting tummy time.

Take extra time to hold your baby

Make conscious efforts to limit your child laying down on flat surfaces (e.g., strollers, play yards, car seats, swings, etc.). For example, when your baby falls asleep in the stroller, make sure that you pick him/her up out of the stroller. Make it a habit to hold your baby frequently because when you pick up your baby, it not only gives your baby a break from the flat surface but will also improve your emotional and psychological bond.  

While your baby naps, adjust the head position

When your baby is sleeping on his or her back, switch the position of his or her head. Even though your baby twists and turns around in the crib throughout the night, position him or her so that the rounded side of the head is contacting the mattress and the flat head-side is facing upwards.

How Long Does Flat Head Take to Correct?

If you take measures to limit the amount of time your infant spends lying with his head on the flat side, you may notice changes in the head shape within a few months. Physiotherapy usually takes two to four months to achieve a rounded, balanced head shape.

Your physiotherapist will not only recommend exercises for you to perform with your baby but also some basic lifestyle adjustments to address the flat spot.

When Is It Too Late to Fix Flat Head?

Once the baby’s skull bones have completely fused, which usually happens when the baby turns eighteen months old, surgery will be the only treatment left to cure a flat head.

What Else Do I Need to Know?

As a baby develops, flat head syndrome typically improves. They begin to shift their sleeping position, so their heads are not always in the same position.

When a baby can sit without any external support, a flat area normally does not worsen. The flattening will then improve over time because the bones develop and grow, even in extreme cases. The flat area generally becomes less obvious as hair grows in during the first several years.

Stephanie Edenburgh

I'm Steph, a mom to 3 beautiful children and lover all things having to do with my family and being a mom. I've learned a lot raising my own children and working in education and healthcare roles throughout my career. Living in beautiful Southern California I enjoy documenting and writing about all of the hard work us mom's do on a daily basis.

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