What Is Plagiocephaly?

Plagiocephaly is a condition that is caused when a flat spot forms on the back or side of a baby’s head. It happens when constant and steady pressure is put on a baby’s skull, which is still soft and malleable. A number of factors can influence the appearance of plagiocephaly, but the way a child uses simple everyday objects such as a bed, car seat or stroller can lead to this condition.

Plagiocephaly most often occurs in infants who have difficulty with neck or head mobility. Because they’re unable to move their heads, constant pressure from laying and reclining is put on one spot, usually the back of the head.

Other disorders can cause an infant’s head to become misshapen. For example, craniosynostosis causes developmental issues with an infant’s skull that can share similar characteristics as plagiocephaly. However, craniosynostosis is a more serious condition that directly affects a baby’s skull tissue.

What Causes Plagiocephaly?

The majority of infants develop plagiocephaly by sleeping in one position regularly. Even in infants with no mobility issues, sleeping on the back every night can increase the chance of developing some degree of plagiocephaly.

A child’s skull begins as seven connected bone plates that fuse to become a full skull around the age of 2 years old. Because of this, and because of the malleability of the bone plates, the shape of a child’s skull can be affected by outside pressures.

Infants skulls are commonly misshapen after the birthing process, but this does not cause plagiocephaly. However, a lack of room in the mother’s uterus leads to an increased chance of developing the condition. A multiple pregnancy (like carrying twins or triplets) and physical smallness of the uterus can both contribute to the infant’s lack of room in the womb.

Premature babies have an increased likelihood of developing plagiocephaly due to the extended periods of time they spend recovering in neonatal intensive care. Conditions such as muscular torticollis that affect the mobility of the neck and the baby’s ability to move their head can also contribute to plagiocephaly.

What Are the Symptoms of Plagiocephaly?

Plagiocephaly literally means “flat head.” A flat area of the head is the main feature and often the only symptom. Plagiocephaly isn’t a painful condition, and doesn’t affect a child’s daily activities or general development.

In severe cases, plagiocephaly can cause noticeable deformity. Flatness of the head can cause an ear to push forward or cause unevenness in facial structures such as the jaw, cheekbones and eye sockets.

Other disorders of the skull and face can cause symptoms that may appear similar to plagiocephaly. Most of these are noticed by doctors soon after the birth. Children who begin to show even mild symptoms of plagiocephaly in the months after birth should be thoroughly examined by a doctor immediately.

What Are the Treatments for Plagiocephaly?

Unlike more serious conditions that typically require surgery, plagiocephaly can often be corrected by repositioning the baby’s head to alleviate pressure place on the flat spot when sleeping. Although infants must sleep in laying down on their back, there are still techniques that parents can use to manipulate the position of the baby’s head.

When awake, parents are encouraged to keep the baby active and on his or her belly. Time spent in carriers, car seats and strollers should be kept to a minimum to relieve the pressure on the flat area of the baby’s skull.

In more severe cases of plagiocephaly, custom-molded helmets are often used by craniofacial doctors to gently correct the development of the baby’s skull. This painless process uses the same combination of pressure and malleability in a child’s head to correct abnormal development caused by plagiocephaly.