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Flat Head Syndrome: Causes, Symptoms & Prevention | Cranial Technologies

This post is sponsored by Cranial Technologies

Flat head syndrome, or “positional plagiocephaly”, is a condition that affects as many as 50% of babies in the first few months of life. Just as the name implies, flat head syndrome occurs when a baby develops a flat spot on the back or side of the head. While it can happen for a variety of reasons, flat spots are typically caused by repeated pressure to one part of the head. 


A baby’s skull bones are soft and malleable, which can help them as they travel through the birth canal, and don’t harden and fuse until several months after birth. Because of these softer bones, a baby’s head can change shape and appear misshapen.

Babies spend much of their time laying on their backs, both because it’s the safest sleep position, and because of swings, car seats, feedings and bouncy chairs. By laying on their backs consistently, pressure on their soft skull bones can lead to a flat spot. 

Other reasons a baby may have flat head syndrome include:

  • Prematurity: premature babies are more likely to have flat head syndrome because their skulls are softer than full term babies. They may also spend more time on their backs because of medical difficulties.
  • Pressure in the womb: babies may develop a flat spot before birth due to pressure on their skull from their mother’s pelvis, or from a twin sharing the space.
  • Torticollis: this is a neck condition which causes tight neck muscles, and can make it harder for the baby to turn its head. Babies with torticollis tend to keep their heads in the same position when lying down, leading to regular pressure on the same part of the skull.


Babies show flat spots in a few different ways, and as a parent, you’ll likely notice one or more signs that your baby might be affected. If you are concerned, a trip to the doctor should be all that’s needed to confirm whether your baby has a flat spot. In fact, doctors can usually diagnose the syndrome just by observing the baby. 


Here are a few of the common symptoms or signs a baby has flat head syndrome:

  • Baby’s head is flatter on one side
  • Baby usually has less hair on that part of the head
  • When looking down at the baby’s head, the ear on the flattened side may look pushed forward
  • Misaligned eyes and ears
  • Lack of a soft spot on the skull


Whether your baby has a flat spot or you’re hoping to prevent one, there are certain strategies you can start to use right away. These tips are not only great for preventing or treating flat spots, they’re helpful for building strong muscles in your baby in preparation for rolling over, crawling, sitting up, or, eventually, walking!

How to treat and prevent flat head spots:

  1. Tummy Time. You’ve likely heard the term “tummy time” before, which is intentional time your baby spends on its stomach. Some babies cry when they are first placed on their tummies, so you can start with just a few minutes at a time, and gradually increase it as you can. Tummy time not only helps your baby’s strength, adequate tummy time helps keep your baby off its back. 
  2. Vary crib positions. When a baby sleeps in the same position, with the head facing left or right each time, it puts consistent pressure on the same part of the skull. Try placing your baby on the other end of the crib, so the baby is more likely to look “out” into the room by turning its head the opposite way. 
  3. Limit time in swings, chairs, car seats. All of these options keep your baby with pressure against the skull, making flat spots more likely.
  4. Hold your baby upright. Try using a baby carrier, or snuggle your baby on the couch while they’re belly to belly with you. This way, there’s little to no pressure placed on their head. 
  5. Try changing feeding positions. If you typically cradle your baby on the left arm, try cradling in the right arm while you feed. 
  6. Consider a helmet to help reform the skull. 

We hope this information helps you feel informed and empowered with your newborn! For more information, please contact Cranial Technologies.


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