I’ve always been a worrier. There’s no question about that. So when I found out I was pregnant I did everything in my power to make sure I was doing the best possible job I could for my child. From eating the right things to buying the right gear, as a new mom I was determined to get everything right the first time around.
I won’t go into all the gory details. But I will tell you that my son was born completely healthy, sunny-side-up via vacuum delivery after 12 hours of labor and 3 hours of pushing (can I get some applause?!).
As I would later find out all these are all risk factors for developing Flat Head Syndrome*.
How our son got the flat head diagnosis
Everything was going very well at first (or so I thought). But at my son’s two month well-child check his pediatrician pointed out some head flattening across the back of his skull. WHAT?! I felt so guilty that I hadn’t noticed this at all (albeit in my delirious, sleep-deprived state).
His pediatrician told me not to worry and that head flattening was just a cosmetic issue (myth). She promised it would get better over time and would eventually resolve itself (myth). Her only suggestion was to do more tummy time (myth). And then she said it was fine to wait it out for awhile (myth) and that she would re-check him at his next appointment when he would be four months old.
I Researched and Tried EVERYTHING
To say I was a wreck for those two months between appointments would be an understatement. I researched everything I could get my hands on. And I really mean it. I looked at everything from wikipedia to scholarly journal articles.
Then I implemented all kinds of techniques to make sure his head flattening would not get any worse. I held him constantly (no more sitting in swings or rock ‘n plays). I alternated my holding positions every 15 minutes. I didn’t leave him in a carseat for longer than 10 minutes and generally avoided traveling as much as possible. I did as many rounds of tummy time as he would tolerate in a day. I woke up every few hours and repositioned him throughout the night. I bought all different kinds gear to relieve pressure from his head.
I Begged for Referrals to Specialists
At his four month well-check it was clear his head shape was not improving. So I pleaded my case to his pediatrician and was so relieved when she agreed to give him a referral to a physical therapist. I was hoping the physical therapist would be able to give me some other repositioning techniques or exercises I could try with my son.
I was blamed
After a lacklustre, extremely rushed five minute evaluation the physical therapist told me my son didn’t have torticollis. (Yes, I already knew that). And that there was nothing she could do (myth).
She told me the head flattening was just a cosmetic issue (myth). And that his hair would eventually cover up the flat spot as he got older.
After a completely incorrect assessment of the situation she then blamed me for not doing enough tummy time. (I had been practicing with him at least 5 times a day). And then she scolded me when she saw that he was slightly resting his head on my stomach while sitting upright in my lap in her office. (He was only 4 months old and didn’t have the strength to sit up completely on his own yet!)
I Felt Alone and Hopeless
But what made everything worse was that I felt like no one was willing to help my son. No one was versed in appropriate treatment approaches for this very common condition. And no one knew what referral to make or what advice to give me to help him out.
So I decided I needed to push harder and be a better advocate for him.
I Asked Other Parents for Advice & Got Help
After digging into the depths of online mommy forums and Facebook groups I finally found other parents who had been through this whole ordeal already. They all had the exact same stories as me. So I reached out for advice. And that’s when we decided to take my son to get a cranial remolding helmet.
He wore his helmet for about 3 months. From the age of 4.5 months to 7.5 months. And we saw some significant improvement.
Then starting around 12 months we started taking him to see a chiropractor to do some final adjustments to get his head shape closer to where we wanted it to be. And we have seen some improvement with that as well.
Treatment vs “Wait and See” Approach
Now, I will say that the decision to get the cranial remolding helmet was one we made with all the information and medical help that we had available to us at that particular point in time. And I’m very glad that we took steps to help his condition instead of waiting.
As I now know, the “Wait and See” Approach is in complete opposition to the conclusion of nearly every single research study of effective treatments for head flattening. With many reports showing that earlier intervention results in significantly improved treatment of Flat Head Syndrome, independent of the severity of the presenting asymmetries 1.
Would I do things differently now?
I will always wonder how things could have been different had we had more information from the beginning. If we had doctors and physical therapists who were versed in head flattening conditions could my son have avoided getting a helmet? Were there other repositioning techniques I could have tried? Could alternative therapies (e.g. chiropractic care) from the beginning have helped his condition?
The Goal: Help Others
As I’ve come to discover, Flat Head Syndrome is actually very common, affecting nearly 47% of infants today 2. However, most primary care providers don’t receive comprehensive training in Flat Head Syndromes and many aren’t up to date with current clinical guidelines for effective treatment.
With a condition that nearly half of infants have there should be more information out there on the topic. And more medical professionals should be versed in appropriate treatment protocols to help infants with flat head syndrome.
So I’ve decided to put our story out there to try and help other families in the same situation. In the next few posts I’d like to provide information on head flattening conditions so that parents can make more informed decisions and get their children the help they need when diagnosed with any kind of head flattening issue.
For our purposes on this site we’ve chosen to use the term “Flat Head Syndromes” as a broad definition to describe flattening of the back of the skull from external forces. The following terms are used by medical professionals and are included in our broader use of “Flat Head Syndromes”.
- Plagiocephaly (without synostosis)
- Positional plagiocephaly (without synostosis)
- Deformational plagiocephaly (without synostosis)
- Posterior plagiocephaly (without synostosis)
- Occipital plagiocephaly (without synostosis)
- Brachycephaly (without synostosis)
What is not included in our definition of “Flat Head Syndromes” are medical conditions where the sutures of the skull have prematurely fused. Medical professionals agree that these conditions should be treated differently. Variations of the term “craniosynostosis” are often used to describe this type on condition.
- Kelly KM, Littlefield TR, Pomatto JK, Ripley CE, Beals SP, Joganic EF. Importance of early recognition and treatment of deformational plagiocephaly with orthotic cranioplasty. Cleft Palate Craniofac J. 1999;36(2):127-130. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10213058. Accessed January 16, 2018.
- Mawji A, Vollman AR, Hatfield J, McNeil DA, Sauvé R. Risk factors for positional plagiocephaly and appropriate time frames for prevention messaging. Paediatrics & Child Health (1205-7088). 2014;19(8):423-427. http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/132/2/298.long. Accessed January 16, 2018.