Plagiocephaly is partial flattening of the back of the head, which gives a slightly distorted look to the head. It may also cause misalignment of the ears and eyes.
Brachycephaly is where the whole back of the head is flattened (occasionally the forehead is also flat).
Both are more common in boys. External pressure on the skull causes the distortion which often resolves with time and osteopathic treatment. Contributing factors to positional head deformity include sleeping on the back, compression in the womb and during birth, prematurity and tight neck muscles (torticollis) See here and here for more information
Torticollis can develop due to newborns sleeping on their back, due to the baby’s head being turned to one side in the womb or having little space in utero or, occasionally, the use of forceps or ventouse (vacuum device) during childbirth. Sometimes there is bruising on one side after delivery or intervention and babies prefer the other side.
This may cause a mechanical neck strain which can cause the baby to have a preference for lying to one side, which contributes to the developing plagiocephaly.
Osteopaths sometimes work alongside other healthcare professionals to give advice on early repositioning and stretching. A recent study suggests that earlier intervention for is best
This aims to reduce the external pressure on one area and encourage the head to round out on the flat side. You can use a rolled-up towel to prevent the baby from resting its head on the flat spot.
We also recommend you place cot toys, mobiles, toys on car seats on the opposite side to the ‘flat’ side to encourage the baby to spend time on the side that is not flattened. Changing baby’s nappy on the opposite side to the side they customarily look also helps.
Encouraging ‘tummy time’ is also very important. Babies should be put on their tummy for a few minutes every day – building up the time gradually. Newer research recommends little and often for tummy time.
We will show you ways to stretch your babies neck to help release the tight muscles of the neck that can contribute to plagiocephaly.
There are a few specialist orthotic suppliers in and around London and the South East that fit helmets should they be needed. Osteopaths are trained to screen for medical conditions and will recommend if you need to see another health professional such as your doctor or a paediatrician.