Plagiocephaly or flat head syndrome

This article is written by the cranial osteopath in Islington at the Angel Wellbeing Clinic.

What is Plagiocephaly?

This may be one of those trendy new conditions that people believe they need to get some treatment for or in this case feel they need to get some treatment for their baby. As a cranial osteopath at Islington’s Angel Osteopathic Clinic I have frequently seen anxious parents concerned about the shape of their babies head. Some parents are desperate for cranial osteopathy after reading something in the press, whilst others just require reassurance that their baby has a normally shaped head.

It maybe the same as the craze for colonic irrigation, what medical diagnosis would lead to colonic irrigation as a treatment? How about Prozac and its panaceic properties. So we need medication so we don’t have uncomfortable feelings? Aren’t uncomfortable feelings just part of life’s rich tapestry? Or how about the fad for ADHD and Ritalin in children. Haven’t children always been badly behaved? Isn’t behaving badly one of the great joys of being a child so don’t spoil it by sticking a label on to it and then prescribing a drug, having said that it means that parents can duck some responsibility for their parenting abilities.

It does seem that sticking a label onto something that is normal gives it an air of seriousness that can lead to a course of treatment, which costs money. Plagiocephaly may turn out to be in the same arena as ADHD, Prozac and Colonic Irrigation, something natural and normal given a name and a treatment and of course a price.

Plagiocephaly is also know as flat head syndrome, it occurs when the head develops a flat spot due to sustained pressure on that area due to the babies head being soft and pliable. Purported causes for this are babies lying on their back, to much time spent in car seats and play mats on floors.

Other causes of plagiocephaly maybe due to movement in the uterus being reduced such as with twins. Or if there is a breach birth and the baby’s head is pushed up towards the mothers ribs allowing little moment.


The drama with of plagiocephaly comes from the US, where else where a study suggests that having a flat head can lead to developmental delays. In the study of 472 babies of average age six months were assessed for cognitive and motor skill and language development. Half the babies had been diagnosed or exhibited some degree of Plagiocephaly or flat head syndrome and these babies performed less well in the tests. The most significant finding was in the motor tests where they were found to score lower. In particular the results for large muscle motor groups such as those used in rolling from their backs to their sides were reduced.

What isn’t clear is, do babies develop flat head syndrome from this inability to roll over from their backs or does the flat head syndrome develop first leading to the motor control problems?

Irrespective of whether we are dealing with causation or an association it is still important to place a baby on their backs. As a cranial osteopath at Islington’s Angel Osteopathic Clinic I always remind parents that getting babies to sleep on their backs has been found to reduce the incidence of SIDS or Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. SIDS is obviously a lot more serious than your baby having a flat head, which we can’t confirm as being related to sleeping on the back.

How to spot Plagiocephaly

As a cranial osteopath in Islington I have examined dozens of babies and there is a wide range of normal shaped head so there is no real need to panic! No two babies are identical so a good history has to be taken from the mother about the pregnancy and the birth process. It is reported that most cases of positional plagiocephaly will disappear by the time the baby is about six-weeks old.

Having said that as a baby grows their skull becomes less pliable so you don’t want to let this go untreated for too long. So see an expert.

A sensible approach to the treatment of Plagiocephaly

Alternate the position of the baby in the cot, place the head of the baby in a different direction in the cot or vary the position of mobiles and toys so the baby has to look in different directions.

Alternate the position of the baby when you feed them so to prevent flat spots from this regular activity.

Avoid too much time for baby in a car seat.

Strengthen the back and neck muscles and improve motor coordination by allowing the baby to spend time on their tummy.

Cranial orthotic therapy

This is straight over from the USA and to date I haven’t seen any of this as a cranial osteopath in Islington.

Babies with severe Plagiocephaly can be fitted with a custom-made helmet, which they need to wear for about 23 hours per day to help correct the shape of the head. Depending on how severe the condition is they may need to wear it for two to six months and have physical therapy to improve the strength and flexibility of the neck muscles. After 12 months the head is thought to be too rigid to benefit form treatment such as this.

If you are concerned about your baby having plagiocephaly contact the cranial osteopath in Islington at the Angel Wellbeing Clinic or click below to make an appointment by clicking below.

By Chantal on 9th May 2012   Share |

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