WHAT TO LOOK FOR
Plagiocephaly is commonly known as “infant flat head syndrome”.
These asymmetries are caused by prolonged external pressure to the infant head.
This can happen during birth, or can be caused by more subtle things like
excessive time in strollers, swings, and car seats.
It is generally used to describe 3 types of positional head shape asymmetries that persist past the age of 6 weeks
Head is longer and narrower than normal.
Forehead and back of head are often square.
Common in premature babies who have spent time in intensive care unit.
Forehead bulging opposite to the flattening on back of head.
Ear shifting on the same side as the back of flattening.
Head resembles a parallelogram.
May be accompanied by torticollis.
Header is abnormally wide and tall.
Tips of ears protrude.
Face appears small compared to size of head.
Back of head is flat instead of rounded.
The Most Common Type of "Infant Flat Head Syndrome"
The most common type of skull deformity in infants
Normally noticed by caregivers at about six to 10 weeks of age
Characterised by an asymmetrical skull shape
Unilateral occipital flattening
Ear is positioned more anterior on the side of the occipital flattening
Forehead may be asymmetrical and is positioned more anterior on the side of the occipital flattening
Facial asymmetry may be present
May be accompanied by torticollis, limited neck range of motion, weakness and preferential head positioning
MAIN CAUSES OF PLAGIOCEPHALY
The push to put babies to sleep on their back to reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) has been associated with a decrease in the incidence of SIDS but has led to an increase in the number of babies living with head shape abnormalities. Long hours in the supine position causes prolonged external pressure to an infants head.
Congenital muscular torticollis is a deformity resulting from shortening/fibrosis of the sternocleidomastoid muscle (SCM) and is associated with plagiocephaly in almost 90% of infants. Because of this shortening, the infant maintains support of the head on only one side, tilting the head toward the side of the affected muscle and turning the chin to the opposite side.
A higher incidence of risk factors occurs with multiples, primarily due to the fact that a “crowded” uterus means an intrauterine constraint, a factor related to deformities present at birth. It is believed that when the baby is positioned at a lower position in the uterus, there seems to be a higher risk of developing an asymmetrical skull. As the baby needs to support more weight, the mobility and capacity to change position can adversely predispose to congenital torticollis.
Changes in our current lifestyle may also have contributed to the factors of postnatal deformational or positional plagiocephaly. The use of firm mattresses, frequent use of seats (in the car and for recreation, also known as babybouncers), and swings often cause the baby to stay for long periods in the supine position. The extensive use of the seat accessories would determine a greater potential to deform the skull.
WE'RE HERE TO HELP
We're here to provide information about the causes, signs and treatment strategies for managing head shape deformities in infants. This includes educating parents on methods of proactively decreasing the likelihood of the development of occipital flattening, initiating appropriate management and making referrals when necessary.
Treatment interventions include repositioning, a developmental home program, paediatric physiotherapy for patients with torticollis and the use of a cranial remolding orthosis to improve symmetry and normal proportion.