Plagiocephaly means an uneven or asymmetrical head shape. Plagiocephaly won’t affect your baby’s brain development. The head shape often goes back to normal without treatment.
What causes a flattened head?
A newborn baby’s skull bones are soft, thin and flexible. This means your baby’s head can change shape easily.
Newborn babies often have strangely shaped heads. This can be caused by the head’s position in the uterus during pregnancy, or can happen because of the squashy passage down the birth canal. It will usually fix itself within about 6 weeks.
If your baby’s head hasn’t gone back to a normal shape by about 2 months of age, see your doctor for assessment.
Some babies might have a flattened spot on the back or side of their heads. This might occur because the baby lies with their head in the same position for a long time. This condition is known as ‘deformational plagiocephaly’ or ‘positional plagiocephaly’.
In some babies, more severe deformational plagiocephaly can be caused by poor muscle tone, which can be associated with the delay of gross motor development skills later in infancy.
Some babies are born with tight neck muscles, this is called torticollis. Torticollis prevents babies from being able to turn their head fully to one side and can lead to positional plagiocephaly.
What are the symptoms of flattened head?
Your baby might have an uneven head shape, or might have flattened sections at the back or side of their head. One ear — or one side of the forehead — may be further forward than the other.
What is the treatment for flattened head?
There are various levels of treatment, depending on the extent of your baby’s plagiocephaly and her response to simple treatment measures. Often, your baby doesn’t need any treatment, because the condition will improve on its own as your baby grows and begins to sit up.
There’s good evidence that simple deformational plagiocephaly will fix itself by the time your child begins primary school, even without any specific treatment.
If your baby needs treatment, your doctor will refer you to a specialist (a paediatrician or plastic surgeon), who’ll develop a treatment plan. This might start with ‘counter-positioning’ measures, which involve positioning your baby so they avoid lying on the flattened spot. They might also have physiotherapy.
For severe plagiocephaly, your specialist might recommend that your child wears a specially fitted helmet, which helps re-shape your child’s head.
How is flattened head prevented?
There are several measures you can use to help prevent your baby from developing deformational plagiocephaly. Try to alternate your baby’s head position between right and left when they're sleeping on their back (this is the recommended sleeping position — putting them to sleep on their stomach raises the risk of sudden infant death syndrome). Also:
- Do not place baby in the seated position for long periods.
- From birth, offer baby increasing amounts of time playing on the tummy while awake and watched by an adult.
- Alternate the holding position when feeding baby, i.e. hold in left arm for one feed and the right arm for the next feed.
You can find out more about your baby's head shape by visiting Red Nose.
Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.
Last reviewed: August 2020