Positional head flattening in babies

Positional head flattening in babies

Positional head-flattening may happen in a baby who spends too much time lying on the same part of their head. You can help to prevent a flat spot from occurring by changing your baby's head position when you put your baby to bed. You should always sleep your baby on their back, but from birth you should try to turn their head to a different side at each sleep.

What is positional head flattening in babies?

Positional head flattening is sometimes referred to as flat head in babies. Its medical name is positional plagiocephaly.

Positional head flattening may occur in a baby who spends too much time lying on the same part of their head.

Sometimes babies are born with a slightly flat spot on their head. They may have head swelling or bruising from a difficult birth. These babies may be more at risk of developing a flat head.

How can I help to prevent positional head flattening in my baby?

You can help to prevent a flat spot from occurring by varying your baby's head position when you put your baby to bed.

You should always sleep your baby on their back, but from birth you should try to turn their head to a different side at each sleep.

New Zealand research has shown that most babies with positional head flattening will improve over time, but it is best to prevent it happening in the first place by using the simple positional strategies outlined above.

When should I seek help?

If your baby does develop a flat head, discuss it with your lead maternity carer, Well Child provider or family doctor.

Occasionally there may be another reason for your baby's flat head, such as:

  • a tight neck muscle (torticollis) on one side which prevents them from turning their head the other way. The muscle is called the sternoclenomastoid muscle. These babies may need to be referred for physiotherapy
  • a problem with their cranial sutures (craniosynostosis) but this is very rare. If you are concerned about an unusual head shape you should check with your doctor

This page last reviewed 29 July 2015.
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