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Flat head syndrome (plagiocephaly and brachycephaly)

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 

 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. 

In brachycephaly: 

  • The rear of the head is flattened, this might cause the head to widen 
  • Occasionally, the forehead appears to bulge.

Plagiocephaly and brachycephaly

Useful links

NHS – Plagiocephaly and brachycephaly

Page last reviewed: 23-01-2024

Next review due: 23-01-2027