Having a baby is one of the best feelings you get to experience in life.
You are happy to become a parent and look forward to providing love, support, and care. Unfortunately, not all births go to plan.
Some babies have a flat head condition, also known as plagiocephaly and it can develop during pregnancy or after birth.
Different treatments, such as helmet therapy, surgery, or something else, can be needed depending on the type of plagiocephaly but often the problem can be solved naturally.
Carl Cummings who is a Canadian pediatrician, argues that the use of helmet therapy has not proven to be successful for moderate or severe cases.
The disadvantages of using helmet therapy are the long hours of use, expense, and the skin irritation it causes.
Therefore, many parents are preferring to choose other treatments if possible.
Further on you can read an overview on plagiocephaly, the cause of the flat head syndrome, and the difference between flat head syndrome and craniosynostosis.
Let’s see how to fix baby’s flat head without helmet.
How to Fix Baby’s Flat Head Without Helmet
Based on the level of flatness, plagiocephaly is split into two main types.
Positional plagiocephaly – This is also known as “flat head syndrome” and is developed after birth. It is common in 50% of births.
This is usually caused when the baby sleeps on their back or one side very often.
Fortunately, this is not a serious issue and requires minor treatments.
Depending on the level of severity, you can determine if your baby’s flat head can be fixed without helmet therapy.
Congenital plagiocephaly – which is also known as “craniosynostosis” is present at birth and is rare, 1 in 2500 babies in the USA.
According to Children’s National, this is caused by the closing of a coronal suture that runs from the top of the head toward either ear.
The cause is unknown, but it can be part of Crouzon or Pfeiffer (i.e. genetic syndromes).
This is a serious problem and requires immediate treatment which most of the time includes surgery.
The most important part to keep in mind is that the baby’s brain continues to grow especially in the first two years.
During this time, the sutures are pushed outwards to create enough room and this process continues until we reach adulthood.
1. Cause of Flat Head Syndrome (Positional Plagiocephaly)
If you want to know how to fix baby’s flat head without helmet it’s good to know what caused it.
Flat head syndrome cases begin to occur during the time of 6 weeks of age, reach their peak at 17-18 weeks of age and start to decline after 2 years of age.
A study published by the American Academy of Pediatrics in 2004, shows the result of positional plagiocephaly presence gathered from 200 infants.
|% of babies with Positional plagiocephaly||Age|
The study continues to explain that some of the main factors that contributed to the presence of positional plagiocephaly are:
Limited passive neck rotation – Due to a tightened neck muscle before birth. An unusual position or an injury while in the womb may be the reason for this.
Supine sleep position – It is quite natural to have the baby sleep in a supine position as it is considered to be the safest.
However, this does increase the probability of having a positional plagiocephaly, especially from 6 weeks of age to 4 months of age.
This happens quite often with premature babies whose skull is softer.
Head position – This is almost the same as the first one, with the difference of being more of a habit rather than a health issue.
Lower activity level – Qualitative time spent with the baby while being awake (i.e. having to lay the baby on their stomach a couple of times a day or making them move their head) is quite important to build neck muscles.
2. Difference Between ‘Flat Head Syndrome’ And ‘Craniosynostosis’
Before jumping into the treatment of plagiocephaly we must understand the difference between ‘flat head syndrome’ and ‘craniosynostosis’ as it can often be misinterpreted.
The flat head syndrome is usually present after birth, and has to do with unusual growth of the skull due to constant pressure put on one side (e.g. on the back of the head while constantly sleeping and laying on the back).
Most of the time, doctors identify this issue while looking at the baby’s head. However, this is something you can do as well at home.
Looking from different angles helps see the asymmetric shape. Sometimes the flat area has less hair.
Craniosynostosis usually develops during pregnancy and has to do with an early closure of coronal suture.
The pressure on other sutures caused by the instant growth of the brain results in a deformed shape of the skull.
This is identified at an early stage of birth via physical examinations, MRI, or genetic testing.
Cases, where the sutures are completely closed, have no other options but surgery. It is important to intervene and relieve the pressure put on the brain so it can have enough space to grow normally.
Now that we understand what it is, we can go ahead and look into methods we can use to treat flat head syndrome.
3. Treatment of Flat Head Syndrome without Helmet
When parents see their babies developing a flat spot, they get anxious and worry about the baby’s health and future.
Most of the time flat spots of this nature don’t cause brain damage is more of a cosmetic issue.
When the doctors diagnose a flat head syndrome, they suggest methods of treatment based on the level of severity.
The methods used for mild to moderate are:
Prone position (tummy time) – When your baby is awake, lay them on their stomach and interact with them.
Having to do so helps your baby to strengthen their neck muscles.
As a result, your baby will stop keeping their head in one position when they are awake in their crib or seat.
In addition, this method relieves the constant pressure put on the back of their head while they are in the supine position.
Repositioning therapy – This is a method used to eliminate preferred head positions.
Usually, babies tend to have preferences on which side to keep their head on (i.e. right or left).
The most common cause of this is the lack of interaction with the baby.
Having the crib in the same place or putting your baby in the same position (i.e. crib on the right side of the bed or baby’s feet towards the door) will indirectly force your baby to look at one side more often as they are curious to see moving objects rather than a wall.
Another thing you can do is to have your baby look on the not preferred side while playing.
Physiotherapy – This is usually used when the baby’s head is tilted to one side due to a tightened neck muscle. It is usually developed in the womb.
The above-mentioned methods can be used, however, in the case of no improvement professional physiotherapy is needed.
The preferred time is at an early stage of birth.
4. Other Methods of Treatments
One interesting method which can help fix your baby’s flat head is osteopathic medicine.
In a short explanation, this is a medical system that views the body as a single functioning unit.
Every part is interconnected and works with others for the same goal.
One of the expansions of osteopathy is cranial osteopathy which focuses on identifying and releasing unnatural pressure in the head and spine.
This is done through gentle massage and applying pressure to those areas needed.
One of the doctors who practice osteopathic medicine is David Grimshaw.
He studied at Michigan State University College of Osteopathic Medicine.
In a YouTube video(check below the post)he explains that the philosophy of osteopathy is to help the body work at its optimum.
He works with babies with flat head syndrome. Through the process, he naturally evaluates:
- The shape of the head
- The different bones of the skull and if they are working the way they are supposed to
- How flexible the baby is
- How is the baby in general
- How is he acting (i.e. normal activities for a baby such as crying, moving, sucking, etc.)
What he looks for are the places that are restricted in their movements and not functioning properly.
Then with different techniques, the tension is released so that that area is free to grow.
A front pack is used to walk around to keep the baby entertained while massaging.
It is very important to work with the child and make them feel relaxed and comfortable rather than force them.
In addition, while the doctor is working, he explains everything so that the parents understand what is going on and are up to date with the process and their baby’s healing.
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Hopefully now you know how to fix baby’s flat head without helmet.
Babies are born with a soft skull to help their transition through the birth canal. These soft spots allow the brain to grow which will eventually push the skull out.
Because of this softness and the time spent sleeping, babies tend to develop flat spots which will make their heads look asymmetrical or have an unusual shape.
This is known as “flat spot syndrome”.
Methods used to fix flat spots involve tummy time, repositioning, physiotherapy, and helmet therapy.
Because the last one can be quite expensive and have some disadvantages, parents are most likely to avoid it.
Spending quality time with your baby and paying attention to details about their health can help you prevent flat spots, identify them at an early stage and fix them earlier.
But, if your baby has flat spots it does not mean that you are a bad parent. This is quite common and you should not put pressure on yourself.
Frequently Asked Questions
How long does it take to fix a flat head without a helmet?
Flat head spots are different for each baby. Some have smaller spots, some bigger ones, but usually, it takes 2 to 4 months.
While visiting the pediatrician, they will notice if the baby already has a soft spot or it is in the early stage of development. Identifying spots early is helpful as it takes less time to fix.
How do you fix a flat head without a helmet?
You can use different techniques.
Tummy time. Have the baby laying on their stomach and play with them.
It is preferred to put them on your lap and raise their chest slightly higher than their lower body to ease the pressure on the neck.
Change the baby’s position on the crib or move the crib from the left wall to the right wall if possible.
In this way, the baby will turn both sides to interact with parents or other people.
Use baby pillows. You can find baby pillows that are designed to ease the pressure put on the skull of the baby.
In that way, the baby is less likely to develop a flat spot when it sleeps. You can find such pillows on the links below.
Will baby’s flat head round out?
Flat spots are quite natural to develop if you don’t pay attention to the baby’s sleeping habits due to their soft spots in the skull.
It is more likely for babies of 6 weeks of age to 4 months of age to develop flat spots.
By the age of 2 years with the right treatment, the head of the baby will round out.
Iesha is a loving mother of 2 beautiful children. She’s an active parent who enjoys indoor and outdoor adventures with her family. Her mission is to share practical and realistic parenting advice to help the parenting community becoming stronger.