For the first six months of your little bub's life it can seem like both you and baby don't do much except sleep, cry, and feed on repeat. Many parents begin to notice in the first few weeks a flat spot developing on their baby's head, and assume the worst. Thankfully if caught early, it can be corrected with simple physical and behavioural changes.
Debbie Evans is a senior paediatric physiotherapist from Therapies for Kids and has helped countless new parents. She says that if treated properly the process of correcting a flat spot is relatively painless, but that prevention is much easier than cure.
What causes a flat spot?
Everyone has a slight asymmetry to their head shape, particularly after coming through the birth canal. This assymetry is why it is often easier for babies to turn their head one way than the other.
"Once a baby is looking to one side, then they often start to stay looking to that side," says Debbie. "Once they are starting to repeatedly hold their head to that side, because the head is mouldable, you can end up with a baby who starts to get a slightly flat patch on the head. That has a name - it's called plagiocephaly."
Once that flat spot is there, it then becomes the easiest place for the child to lay their head when they rest, so it can become gradually worse.
Listen to Debbie on Kinderling Conversation
How do you fix a flat spot?
Debbie says that the sooner you get them off the flat spot, the better: "Before they start to close their fontanelles, which are the little holes in their heads which expand and move when they're coming through the birth canal, the quicker the [flat spot] will correct."
These flat spots also have degrees of seriousness. "If the flat spot is actually causing the front of the face to move forwards so the top of the eye and the cheek bones start to actually move, then it is harder to correct that. Babies should be seen by a therapist as soon as a flat spot is seen, or you should at least ask your GP how to correct it."
Debbie’s steps for correcting flat spots
These tips will help the bones in baby's head to reshape:
- Increase tummy time and change up baby's position often
- Encourage them to look in more than one direction
- Avoid placing baby flat on their back very much when they're awake
- Change the side you carry them on, so they have to turn their head in more than one direction
Debbie also adds that having a variety of positions for bub to be in while they're awake is crucial to preventing the flat spots in the first place. "If they're constantly practicing laying to one side and the head is having the force of the weight of the head on to that side, then it's harder to fix" Debbie says.
How long does it take to correct?
The sooner you address the issue in small ways with the steps above, the sooner you start to allow the bones of their head to reshape. Debbie cites that in Europe, just seven weeks is the amount of time you have to catch a misshapen head.
"If you can catch a misshapen head by seven weeks, you'll have the greatest affect to change that," she says, adding that within her own practice there is a tendency to see babies referred between four and six months.
For more information on plagiocephaly or misshapen head there are great resources available online from the Royal Children's Hospital Melbourne. And never underestimate a quick chat with your GP, or a second medical opinion.
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