What is Flat Head Syndrome and How Does it Affect Babies?

What is Flat Head Syndrome and How Does it Affect Babies?

By Nordic Balance

Written by Noemi Panella, Osteopath, D.O., M.OSt.


Flat Head Syndrome (or plagiocephaly, to give it its technical name) is a very common condition, which often occurs in newborns.


As new parents, we’re always on high alert for any potential risk (no matter how small) to our delicate little newborn.


As a result, it’s only natural that any conditions with names like Flat Head Syndrome are the stuff of parents’ nightmares.


But don’t panic! Once you learn more about the condition, you’ll quickly realise that Flat Head Syndrome is far less severe than it sounds. It is highly treatable, and a professional osteopath will promptly restore your little one to full health with a course of non-invasive, chemical-free and completely natural therapies.


We’ve used this blog post to inform and reassure new parents, sharing our guide to understanding Flat Head Syndrome, including its causes, treatments, and our osteopaths’ expert guidance.


What is Flat Head Syndrome?


Plagiocephaly or “Flat Head Syndrome” is a very common condition that occurs in newborns.


The word plagiocephaly comes from Greek, where plàgios means oblique or flat, and kefalè means skull.


How Does Flat Head Syndrome Affect Babies?


Plagiocephaly is a common condition in newborn babies.


It is a musculoskeletal condition in which the shape of the skull has been altered. Plagiocephaly is caused by outside forces, most commonly occurring during pregnancy, during childbirth or after childbirth.


There are two primary types of Plagiocephaly are Primary and Secondary:


Primary Plagiocephaly is where altered cranial morphology has occurred due to something that happened before childbirth. This could be foetal mispositioning, the mother having a tight pelvis, having twins, or congenital myogenic torticollis.


Or, this could also have occurred during childbirth. For instance, the child may have positioned themselves too early, prolonged labour, use of obstetric devices or even C section.


Secondary Plagiocephaly is also a condition of altered cranial morphology. But, this differs in that it has been caused by something that happened in the postnatal period. Common causes include pressured positions being taken during sleep and breastfeeding.


For instance, plagiocephaly rates in the UK have increased following 1992, when it was decided that babies should sleep on their backs to avoid cot death (SIDS).


Another common reason is premature birth. This is because the baby will have been in the neonatal incubator for a long time without being mobilised or having their postural preference considered.


What are the Symptoms of Flat Head Syndrome?


In addition to the impact that it has had on the shape of the skull, the condition can also cause other visible symptoms.


The child with positional plagiocephaly that affects the face may have:


– Asymmetry of the eyes
– Difficulty hearing – the child’s ear system may be unable to work symmetrically
– An asymmetrical mouth.
– Difficulty using their mouth – for instance, the child may have problems with sucking
– Asymmetrical posture (such as scoliosis)


What is the Difference Between Plagiocephaly and Craniosynostosis?


It is vital that you recognise the difference between benign positional plagiocephaly and craniosynostosis.


Craniosynostosis is a congenital disability in which the bones in a baby’s skull join together too early. This is a real pathology and requires a far more comprehensive and complex course of treatment.


The primary way in which you can tell the difference between the two is the shape of the skull.


In instances of plagiocephaly, the shape of the skull is always parallelepiped. This means that the brain still has room to expand.


In craniosynostosis, cranial hypertension occurs because the brain has no space. In craniosynostosis, the skull has the shape of a trapezium. As a result, this condition is far more severe.


What is the Best Treatment for Flat Head Syndrome?


Mild positional plagiocephaly deformities can be treated by manual therapy alone.


If the baby has a more severe plagiocephaly deformity, cranial orthotic aids can be used alongside manual therapy.


The best age range for performing the osteopathic treatment is between 0 and 4 months of life.


Osteopathic manipulation is designed to mobilise the cranial structures. A professional osteopath will restore the shape of the head by using gentle manipulation techniques on the sacrum and pelvis.


Note that it is very rare for an osteopath to be able to remodel the head enough to bring it back to its original condition. However, a structured session of osteopathic treatments will restore the baby’s head back to a shape that alleviates any of the symptoms listed above and allows the child’s head to move in all directions without any problems, pain or difficulty.


In short, osteopathic treatment is a highly effective, gentle and natural way to treat Flat Head Syndrome in babies. It can be used to:


– Correct and limit morphological anomalies of the skull
– Restore correct range of motion
– Promote a correct and balanced neuromotor development of the child
– Prevent future problems
– Supplement and enhance the effect of any medication
– Reduce the degree of asymmetry in the baby’s face


Reducing the Risk of Flat Head Syndrome – Advice for New Parents


Start the ‘tummy time’ very early. This is the process of keeping a baby in the prone (belly down) position while they are awake. Even if they cry, trust that your baby is able to deal with this. The position will encourage their neck muscles to develop far more effectively, and it is a vital precaution for preventing Secondary Plagiocephaly.
Adopt a belly-up position. When they are sleeping, keep the baby in a supine (belly up) position. Furthermore, when they are in a prone (belly down) position, stimulate them to turn the neck side to side.
Keep an eye on their position during sleep. If you notice your baby turning in their sleep, to lie on their favourite, flatter side, change their position to the other side.
Breastfeed bilaterally. This will ensure that the head is not kept in one condition (putting uneven pressure on the head) for too long.


Our specialist team of osteopaths have extensive experience working with newborns. They are always on hand to offer their advice or book you and your baby in for a course of osteopathic treatment. They have the skills and experience to quickly and effectively treat Flat Head Syndrome, as well as a wide range of other musculoskeletal congenital disabilities.


If you have any further questions about Flat Head Syndrome or its treatment, don’t hesitate to get in touch. You can speak to one of our specialist Osteopaths at either our Abbeville Road or Wimbledon Village sites.

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