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When Your Baby’s Head Shape Might Be Cause for Concern

A mother kissing her newborn child

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Bringing a baby home from the hospital can be a scary time for a parent as they navigate the first few months as an expanded family. The list of things to worry about as your little one develops can seem overwhelming and endless.

As you rock your new bundle of joy to sleep, you may be asking yourself if their head shape is normal, too. If you have concerns, our world-class craniofacial team is here to help answer your questions and ease your mind.

What Causes Irregular Head Shapes?

You may notice your pediatrician examining your baby’s head during their first few wellness visits. Dr. Rajendra Sawh-Martinez, Medical Director of Pediatric Plastic Surgery at AdventHealth for Children, explains that all babies are born with soft spots — one in the front and one in the back — that allow room for the brain to grow after birth .

There are bones on either side of the soft spots that are separated by a seam. The seams can potentially fuse early or close prematurely — or remain open as they were when the child was born, causing a baby’s head to become misshapen.

Immediately after labor and delivery, a baby’s head can sometimes look a little bit off because everything gets compressed as they work their way through the birthing canal. This is normal, “and most of the time, naturally evens out,” Dr. Sawh-Martinez says. When it doesn’t, our craniofacial team can help.

Common Head-Shape Conditions in Infants

There are three main conditions that commonly contribute to irregular head shapes in infants: plagiocephaly, torticollis and craniosynostosis.

Plagiocephaly

Positional plagiocephaly is a condition where an infant develops a flat area on the back or side of the head. This is the most common condition associated with a misshapen head, says Dr. Kaveh Asadi, Surgical Director of Pediatric Neurological and Craniofacial Surgery .

This condition is often a result of an infant spending too much time on their backs. Because of this, Dr. Asadi suggests lots of tummy time, helping your child rotate their positioning often and making sure they aren’t spending too much time lying on their back to help lessen the chances of developing preventable conditions.

Thankfully, plagiocephaly doesn’t cause brain damage or development issues. It can vary in severity, so specialists look for how a child’s growth and development change, which helps determine how plagiocephaly can be treated. If, around month five or six of the baby’s life, you notice that things look more severe and the soft spot is continuing to flatten, that’s when Dr. Sawh-Martinez and his team may recommend helmet therapy.

Torticollis

Torticollis can be noticeable immediately at birth, or it could take a few months to present. It usually looks like your baby has trouble turning their neck in one or both directions, as if the muscles are tight. It’s common for torticollis and plagiocephaly to occur together.

Speak to your child’s pediatrician if you notice any of these signs:

  • Facial asymmetry
  • Flat head
  • Frustration when unable to turn a certain way
  • Having trouble turning to eat on one side
  • Tilting head in one direction
  • Turning their entire upper torso instead of just their head

In addition to helmet therapy, your child’s specialist may also recommend pediatric physical therapy to help improve range of motion, increase strength and focus on positioning correction.

Craniosynostosis

This condition is considered a congenital disability (a birth defect) and occurs when the bones in a baby’s skull join together too early, before the baby’s brain is fully formed. So as the baby’s brain grows, their head can start to become misshapen. Unlike plagiocephaly and torticollis, craniosynostosis isn’t preventable with positioning changes. It’s a more serious condition that requires a different treatment plan.

To treat craniosynostosis, doctors need to eliminate the dangers associated with built-up pressure in and around the brain. This can be done through surgery, but the specific type of procedure will depend on the severity of the child’s condition and their age.

Our Craniofacial Team Is Here to Guide You

If you’re concerned about your baby’s head shape, rest assured that our craniofacial team can answer your questions and recommend treatments. To learn more about how our team treats cranial disorders, watch our Ask a Kid Doc – Baby Head Shapes Facebook Live segment with Dr. Sawh-Martinez and Dr. Asadi, or visit AdventHealthforChildren.com/Craniofacial.

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