While flat head syndrome is most commonly found in infants and babies, the condition does not discriminate against age and can affect people of all ages. We receive a significant number of inquiries from adults and parents with older children who are seeking treatment for plagiocephaly.
Although helmets can successfully treat plagiocephaly in infants, this is unfortunately not the case for adults and older children. When we have to give this news to parents and those affected by the condition, it is always upsetting.
At our clinic, we frequently get queries from parents about plagiocephaly and its treatment. Below, we answer one of the most common questions to help you make a decision about whether or not to go ahead with treatment for your baby.
NHS guidance suggests that plagiocephaly will gradually improve without intervention, and states that by the time a child is 1-2 years old, any flattening of the head will be difficult to detect. They also recommend that as a child becomes more active and their hair grows, the appearance of their head shape should improve.
However, both our experience and the feedback we receive from parents tell us that this is not as simple as it may seem. Many children have fine or short hair which cannot cover up a misshapen head, and these problems often persist into adulthood. Additionally, the NHS summary does not mention the practical implications of untreated plagiocephaly such as developmental difficulties or psychological impacts.
As infants age, more research has appeared regarding plagiocephaly and its long-term effects. These effects can include physical, developmental, and psychological impacts that become more apparent when treatment is too late.
A study that looked at the development of toddlers with and without deformational plagiocephaly (DP) found that those with DP scored lower in all areas of the Bayley Scales of Infant and Toddler Development, Third Edition. Although this study did not find a direct connection, it does show that there needs to be closer attention given to their development.
Children with untreated plagiocephaly may experience practical difficulties in everyday life, such as difficulty wearing helmets or other protective headgear, and difficulty sleeping on their backs. In severe cases, plagiocephaly can also lead to developmental delays.
Adults and children with flat heads may suffer from psychological issues later on in life. A head that is not shaped correctly often leads to a number of social and emotional problems which a person may have to face during school and beyond. Additionally, research has revealed that people with symmetrical features are seen as more attractive. However, even if we choose to ignore this information and train ourselves not to have these types of automatic responses, there may still be others around us who will react negatively toward an abnormality. This could result in teasing or bullying in some situations.
Tummy time is crucial for babies as it helps strengthen the neck, shoulder, arm, and back muscles. Additionally, tummy time will help reduce the likelihood of developing a flat spot on the head from spending too much time on their back or in devices like rockers, swings, prams, and car seats. Although this can be difficult to manage – especially when you have other children to take care of – aim to limit how much time your baby spends on their back during the day.
If your baby has a flat spot, try to adjust their position frequently so that they aren’t on the flat side all the time. This means during feeds (if you’re breastfeeding, try different holds, and if you’re bottle feeding, be aware of which side you last fed on!) and also during sleep (when your baby is asleep, adjust them so that they don’t always have their head turned in the same direction.) During tummy time, try to have your baby look in both directions.
The key here is to make small adjustments often to avoid worsening the flat spot.
If you are worried about your child’s head shape, reach out to NJ Craniofacial Center. We would be more than happy to evaluate the situation and give our professional opinion. The earlier plagiocephaly is caught, the better chance for a positive outcome!
To schedule a private consultation with NJ Craniofacial Center, please call our office or request an appointment online. We look forward to your visit.
131 Madison Avenue, Third Floor, Morristown, NJ 07960