Babies can sometimes develop a flattened head, known as flat head syndrome, as a result of long periods on their back.
Flat head syndrome is common and affects around 1 in 5 babies. General development is not affected by flat head syndrome, and your baby will not experience any pain or other symptoms because of the condition.
In most cases there is no cause for concern and their head shape will improve over time as they develop. You should speak to your health visitor or GP if you’re concerned, or if you think your baby is having trouble moving their head.
Things you can do to encourage your baby’s head development
- give your baby time on their tummy during the day and encourage them to try new positions during play time, but make sure to follow safe sleep guidance, they should always sleep on their back to reduce the risk of SIDS.
- switch your baby between a sloping chair, a sling and a flat surface – this ensures there isn’t constant pressure on one part of their head.
- change the position of toys and mobiles in their cot – this will encourage your baby to turn their head on to the non-flattened side.
- alternate the side you hold your baby when feeding and carrying them.
- reduce the time your baby spends lying on a firm flat surface, such as car seats and prams – try using a sling or front carrier when practical.
Mild flattening will usually improve over time, but it can take a couple of months to notice any improvements.
Helmets, headbands and mattresses designed to relieve head pressure are not recommended and can be uncomfortable and distressing for your baby.
Types of flat head syndrome
There are two main types of flat head syndrome, plagiocephaly and brachycephaly.
Babies with plagiocephaly may have:
- Flattened heads on one side, which may look asymmetrical. Their heads can look like a parallelogram from above.
- Ears that appear to be misaligned.
- Foreheads which seem to be bulging on the flattened side.
- The rear of the head is flattened, this might cause the head to widen
- Occasionally, the forehead appears to bulge.