A note from Rebekah: This article, written by Jennifer Barnard, touches my heart because our first son, Jack, had what I now think was undiagnosed torticollis. From the time he was born, he would only look to the left when I laid him down on his back. When he could start following my movements with his eyes, he could do this – but never turn his head. I knew something wasn’t right, and I asked my pediatrician repeatedly if we needed to be doing something to get him to move his head more or if we needed to have him evaluated. She dismissed my worries, and I dismissed her nonchalance (I also switched pediatricians by the time Jack was 5 months old). But (I now feel so guilty for this) I didn’t take him anywhere…I just started making sure I spent time each day repositioning his head so that he spent a good deal of time looking to the right.
When Jennifer contacted me about her work a few weeks ago, in our very first conversation, I asked her to please write something for our Moms community. I had acted on my intuition, knowing something wasn’t right with Jack, and am so glad I did. He did have a slightly flattened head for his first year, but nothing serious enough for a helmet and now is perfectly fine. But I wanted other Moms to hear these tips because it can prevent unneccessary worry and pain later if a Mom takes action early. Please read on…..
Four Ways to Avoid Flat Head Syndrome
Most of us have seen them at the local mall or when we are eating out at a restaurant. The babies with those terrible white helmets on. Although we don’t know what they are exactly, they look horrible and the baby must be suffering from something really bad. We try not to stare.
If this is something you have experienced, you can breathe easy. Those “terrible” white helmets are a simple and painless device to round out the baby’s head. Most likely the baby has “plagiocephaly” or flat head syndrome. Unfortunately, it is very common with our little ones. They are getting flat heads from being on their backs too much. Yes, 1 in 60 babies will suffer from it each year.
The good news is that, for the most part, it is preventable. The bad news is that expectant and new parents are not receiving the information early enough. By the time they get the vital information, it is because their baby’s head is already flat. You are a lucky one because you are reading this now and you can pass it along to all of your friends, family and peers that are expecting babies. You will be part of a movement to save our babies’ heads!
The following are four things you can do to keep your baby’s head round. If you have problems with any of them and suspect a problem, contact your pediatrician right away. Don’t wait until your next appointment. There is a very small window of opportunity – don’t let it slip away.
You should always sleep your baby on his/her back. Try, though, to turn his head in a different direction at each sleep time. Rotate him in the crib so he faces different directions. Alternate which side you are feeding him, changing his diaper and carrying him. The key here is to keep him from always being on one side (which will flatten the skull). Does he seem to have a preference to go to the same direction all the time? Or, is it more difficult to turn him a certain way? If so, you may need a therapist to evaluate for neck tightness (torticollis). Early treatment of torticollis is a critical part of preventing a flat head.
Supervised tummy time should be started immediately after the baby is born. I know, I know – the baby doesn’t like it. If you do it in small increments and start early, the baby will adjust quickly. Plus, you are the parent and you know it is good for him. Try to incorporate supervised tummy time into your daily schedule, just like you do feedings and diaper changes. The first 2-3 months are the most critical time for your baby’s head shape. Start right now!
These can be your best friend but also your biggest enemy, so use them with caution. An “incline surface” includes a car seat/carrier, swing and bouncy seat. COMBINED, these should not make up more than 3 hours of your baby’s day. Don’t forget to count all shopping trips, meals out, naps, walks, errands, siblings’ activities, etc. It adds up. Watch it closely. If you have multiples, this gets a little bit more complicated. Just do your best.
*For some babies, an incline surface is recommended after feedings for reflux. If this is the case, you might need to collaborate with a therapist to work in accordance with these important precautions.
Keep a close eye on the shape of your baby’s head from the moment you get home from the hospital. The best way to look at it is from a “bird’s eye view” or looking down on it. This is how you can tell if there is any flattening or asymmetry. Typically the flattening will begin in the back so that is a good place to start. If you see any, let your pediatrician know so you can address it right away.
So there you have it – the four secrets to a round head. Good luck and may our babies reap the benefits of all our hard work!
Please contact Jennifer for questions, comments, or speaker requests!