What is Flat Head Syndrome?

Have you ever been out and about and seen a baby wearing a helmet? If you’re like most moms, you probably marveled at how adorable it looked on the baby, but then silently wondered what in the world it was for. The answer is one that all mothers, especially those with multiples should be aware of: Flat head syndrome.

If you’ve never heard of it, you’re not alone. Flat head syndrome is the condition in which an area of an infant’s head is flattened, often with little hair growing in that area. It is most often the result of babies spending a lot of time lying on their backs or often being in a position where the head is resting against a flat surface (such as in cribs, strollers, swings and playpens).

Any baby can develop flat head syndrome, and nearly 1 in 2 do by age 5 months. Since preemies and multiples often spend an extended amount of time lying flat on their backs in the NICU after birth, they’re at especially high risk.

The results of flat-head syndrome are potentially two-fold: Babies can develop flat spots on their skulls, as well as end up with tight neck muscles on one side, causing a head tilt. What’s more, recent research suggests that many infants with flat head syndrome can experience varying degrees of developmental delays later in life.

The best way to treat flat head syndrome? Prevention. Newborn infants sleep the majority of the time, and it’s important that they be flat on their backs when they do so. To reduce the pressure this can cause on the back of the head, change your baby’s head positioning after each feeding, alternating sides so that one does not become favored.

You can also try alternating the arm in which your hold your baby for feeding, and alternating the side from which you approach baby during diaper changes.

As your baby gets older and strong enough to move on his or her own, you can provide distractions to entice him to turn his head from side to side (like a favorite toy). Another helpful tactic can be to turn your baby around in the crib so that he naturally turns toward the parent and the activity in the room. Special hats, like the Tortle, can help, too, by helping you position your baby. By switching the Tortle from side to side with each feeding, you can alleviate flat stops and neck tightness that newborns develop ($20, tortle.com).