Babies and Head Shape
A new mum told me recently that she didn't want her baby to grow up with a squashed head in case he got teased at school "like Charlie Brown"! As a one time collector of Charlie Brown books I didn't have the heart to tell her that he was often called "the funny looking kid with the round head", I know what she means though, you want your baby to be perfect in every way, including head shape.
So the topic of this month is Babies and Head Shape.
Before I get going on babies try this experiment on adults: look closely at the next 10 people you can (safely) examine. Are the eyes level? Are the ears level? Does one ear stick out more than the other? Is one ear further forward than the other? Then look from behind, is the back of the head symmetrical or do some bits bulge or look flat. Chances are you will find very few symmetrical heads, so I suggest that the "Charlie Brown" head is actually rather uncommon.
OK back to babies.
There are probably three periods of life when your baby's head is most vulnerable:
- During pregnancy, especially the later stages if the position is cramped or unusual see Babies and Cranial Osteopathy
- During the birth, if there is an emergency intervention or if the baby engages awkwardly
- During the first three months after birth when flat spots can develop
The current advice given by everyone in authority is to put your baby to sleep on her back, this is known to be the safest position for sleeping. In Sweden, I am told a thin pillow is recommended, in the UK no pillow is recommended. The problem with this is that the back of the baby's head will tend to develop flat spots as the very flexible bones distort under the weight of the head, and once a flat spot has developed it will tend to get bigger and flatter because to the baby it is comfortable to lie on. The good news is that after three months the bones are strong enough to resist this tendency to flatten.
As a parent you will probably want to minimise this tendency to form flat spots during the first three months and I have some suggestions here to help you.
First of all make sure your baby can turn her head easily both ways, encourage this by:
- Breast feeding, both sides
- Holding, equal time left and right
- Visual stimulation - use toys to make head turning a game
If you are worried that your baby has a problem with head turning call your friendly local cranial osteopath or if closer contact www.londonorthotics.co.uk for some specific advice or treatment.
The next two things I recommend are "tummy time" and "repositioning".
- Tummy time - little and often every day. Put your baby on her tummy and when she starts to fret pick her up, but keep putting her back down. Supervise at all times and do not allow her to fall asleep on her front. The whole idea is to develop the muscles that attach to the head because as they get stronger so will the cranial bones.
Thanks to London Orthotics for permission to use their poster
- Repositioning - when asleep, gently reposition the head every hour or so.
- Mattresses and pillows - ask your friends and midwife for recommendations.
- Rocking - all the time you are rocking, your muscles are being stimulated, it's the same for your baby so maybe we should start a campaign to bring back the rocking chair and the crib.
Now for the technical bits: the flattening of the back of the head is called Positional Plagiocephaly, it is estimated by Great Ormond Street Hospital that more than 50% of babies have this condition. It is not dangerous to the baby and if you follow the suggestions above you can minimise or even eliminate it.
See my Special Topics article on babies and cranial osteopathy
See my Special Topics article on pelvic girdle pain