Cranial Cradle

Most new parents prepare for their baby’s entrance into the world by reading copious amounts of information on how to feed, wash, swaddle, clothe, and protect their little bundles of joy.  Many ailments such as colic, diaper rash, and SIDS are covered within this reading material but more often than not, parents are unaware of ailments that can be caused each time they lay their child down to sleep.

Each year as many as 400,000 families in the U.S. discover that their baby has a misshapen head due to positional plagiocephaly or flat-head syndrome.  In recent years, the reported cases of plagiocephaly have dramatically increased to 1 in 10 children due to the physician supported national campaign “Back to Sleep” which purpose was to reduce the incidence of sudden infant death syndrome by lying babies in the supine (back) position to sleep. 

The supine sleep position has been strongly associated with plagiocephaly. As the infant spends more time supine or reclining with his or her head on a hard surface such as a car seat, swing, bassinet or cot mattress, the more likely to cause the baby’s head to develop flat head syndrome or deformational plagicocephaly.

Studies show in recent years that people have taken this campaign seriously, SIDS has decreased, but plagiocephaly is on the rise. (

Flat Head Syndrome is a condition where a baby’s head develops a flat spot or becomes misshapen because of external pressure to the back or the side of the baby’s skull. This can result in irregular development of the skull’s structure.

External pressure on the baby’s head causes their malleable skulls to flatten, which can lead to more than just a misshapen head.  Ocular protrusion, vision problems, and developmental delays have all been attributed to this condition while difficulty chewing and a higher risk of jaw problems such as TMJ have been known to occur in severe cases. 

Regular monitoring is highly recommended since there are varying degrees of unilateral flattening, some symptoms to monitor is bald or flattened spots, forehead protrusion, facial asymmetry, anteriorly displaced ears and should be inspected often by aerial view.

There are two basic shapes for heads with Flat Head Syndrome – Brachycephaly and Scaphocephaly. With Brachycephaly, the skull appears flat, wide, and short; with Scaphocephaly the skull appears long and narrow. Another condition commonly linked to Flat Head Syndrome is Torticollis. This is a condition that affects the baby’s neck muscles, so that the baby rests his/her head on one side more than the other.

Preventing Flat Head Syndrome can be straightforward for parents and caregivers using repositioning techniques. Flat Head Syndrome treatment can be more challenging and may require the use of a customized helmet that the baby wears for 23 hours per day for a number of months and can cost thousands of dollars not to mention discomfort for your baby.

In addition to deformation, studies by Seattle’s Children’s Hospital now suggest there may be a link to motor and cognitive development. (


To help prevent Flat Head Syndrome occurring, you should:

Ensure your baby gets an adequate amount of ‘tummy time’ everyday

Avoid leaving baby in crib, bassinet, car seat or swing for an extended amount of time

Remove baby from crib or bassinet once baby is awake

Regularly change your baby’s position

Encourage the use of toys from side-to-side for repositioning & playtime distraction; baby should rotate his/her head from side-to-side

Reposition baby from one end of crib to opposite end of crib daily

Carry your baby in your arms or in a sling

When your baby is on a flat firm surface consider placing a contoured pillow or pad under the baby’s head to reduce pressure

If you notice any changes in the shape of your babies head, please consult your physician

Written by Lisa Lake — November 11, 2011

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