What Parents Need to Know About Their Baby’s Head Shape.

Maybe you’ve noticed a flat spot on your baby’s head? Or, perhaps the child of a friend, has worn a corrective helmet and you want to learn more. Well.. read on to find out all about ‘flat head syndrome’. 


What is it?

Flat head syndrome is a collective term for when a flat spot develops on your baby’s head. 

Babies’ skulls are very soft and malleable when they are born, as the skull bones are not fully fused. This makes the skull susceptible to altering shape. 

These conditions are benign, are not painful, and are reversible in most cases.

There are 3 main terms that you might hear health professionals use when talking about your babies head shape:

  1. Plagiocephaly
  2. Brachycephaly 
  3. Scaphocephaly



Plagiocephaly refers to the flattening of your baby’s head on one side, due to repeated pressure to that spot. It is the most common form of flat head syndrome. 

It most commonly occurs due to their sleep position or tightness in their neck muscle (torticollis).

Studies show that 20-25% of infant back-sleepers end up developing plagiocephaly. This incidence has increased since The American Academy of Paediatrics (AAP) put out the ‘Back to Sleep’ guidelines, recommending that infants sleep on their backs to reduce the risk of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) back in the 1990s. Even though the numbers have increased, back sleeping is still the SAFEST way to sleep your baby. 

Plagiocephaly can be classified as:

  • Positional – occurs after birth, usually from prolonged positioning and looking to one side, or from torticollis (we will talk about this in more detail in another post)
  • Congenital – from tight packaging in utero.

Plagio causes asymmetries to the back of the skull, forehead and can also cause ear shift

More severe types can cause facial asymmetries, such as uneven cheekbones, eye sockets, and lower jaw.⠀



Brachycephaly is characterised by a flattened area at the back of the head, and ‘widening’ of the skull.

It is most often caused by prolonged time spent on their backs.


It can also cause:

  • Bulging of the forehead
  • Head appears tall at the back
  • Increased width to length ratio



Scaphocephaly is the premature closure or fusion of some of the bones in the skull. This ‘suture’ or bone line, runs front to back, down the middle of the top of the head.


This fusion causes a long, narrow skull. The skull is long from front to back and narrow from ear to ear.


What do I do if I think my baby has Scaphocephaly?

Treatment for scaphocephaly is a bit different to plagio and brachycephaly, due to the suture closing.

If there is no early fusion, positioning and helmet therapy may be an option. If there is fusion, surgery is the most common form of treatment.


Always consult with a medical professional. 



Most important thing to remember, these conditions are not your fault and can be easily corrected.  


So how do I correct my baby’s head shape?!

This is another time where we preach that PREVENTION is better than CURE. 

A baby’s head position needs to be varied during sleep and when they are awake to avoid them developing deformational plagiocephaly.

  • Sleeping position: Your baby must always be placed on their back to sleep to reduce the risk of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome or Cot Death).
  • Head and cot position for sleep: Your bub will tend to want to turn their head towards you, or an engaging object e.g. a window, teddy, mobile etc. So changing their cot position will encourage them to look at things that interest them from different angles.  
  • Play time: When your baby is awake and alert, play or interact with them facing you and make sure they are practicing their tummy time! When on their back, place rattles or toys (or other people’s faces) that your baby likes to look at in different positions to encourage your baby to turn their head both ways. 
  • Vary your holding and carrying positions of your baby: Avoid having your baby lying down too much by varying their position throughout the day, for example, swap what arm you normally hold them in for cuddles or bottle feeding. Try carrying them on their tummy over your forearm or over your shoulder. 


If you have noticed that your baby is already showing signs of a misshapen head, early treatment is best. There are lots of different stretches and strengthening activities that your paediatric physio can recommend to improve baby head shape, so give them a call and book an appointment!