Deformational or positional plagiocephaly describes when a baby’s head becomes misshapen or flattened. This occurs because babies are born with soft skull bones and the junctions (sutures) between the bones are not fused. As a result, the baby’s head will sometimes become misshapen due to:
- their position in the uterus during pregnancy
- movement through the birth canal
- lying in the same position for a long time.
Positional plagiocephaly does not cause brain damage and is easily treated.
The condition is different from craniosynostosis which involves the premature fusion of one or more of the cranial bones.
When should you seek medical help?
Speak to your child health nurse or general practitioner if:
- you are concerned about your baby’s head shape
- your baby only turns their head to one side when lying on its back.
What is the treatment?
It’s common for a new baby to have a flat spot on their head and in most cases this will correct itself, usually by the time the baby is sitting independently.
You can reduce the effects of plagiocephaly by varying the position of your baby’s head and ensuring they don’t rest for long periods on the flat spot:
- Sleep time: alternate your baby’s head position from the right to the left while they sleep. It’s still important to ensure your baby sleeps on its back to help prevent Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. See the safe sleeping guidelines – Queensland Health
- Play time: Place your baby on its tummy or side during waking hours and during play time.
- Carrying and holding positions: vary how you hold or carry your baby with slings and during cuddles (over your shoulder or over your arm while they are on their tummy or side).
Plagiocephaly usually improves with time and there is no evidence to support the use of cranial remodelling helmets for babies who are healthy and developing normally.
In an emergency, always call 000.
If it’s not an emergency but you have any concerns, contact 13 Health (13 43 2584). Qualified staff will give you advice on who to talk to and how quickly you should do it. You can phone 24 hours a day, seven days a week.