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“Flat Head Syndrome” sounds like a strange, scary term, right? Officially known as Deformational Plagiocephaly, this condition is responsible for abnormal shapes of babies’ heads and is often caused by external forces. If you’re a parent, grandparent, or caregiver, you might have heard about it or even noticed it. What’s reassuring is that it’s not as unusual as it may seem at first glance, and it’s quite manageable. Let’s dive deeper into this topic and dispel some myths along the way.

Plagiocephaly: Before and After STARband Treatment

Deformational Plagiocephaly, to put it simply, alters a baby’s head shape. If you’re envisioning what a baby with this condition looks like before they undergo STARband treatment, you might picture a head that’s slightly misshapen or asymmetrical. These changes can be present immediately after birth or gradually become evident within the first few months of the baby’s life.

While it might seem unsettling at first, these physical changes can be addressed effectively. STARband treatment, a specialized therapeutic intervention, can do wonders. By providing gentle, continuous pressure on the baby’s skull, it helps correct the shape over time. After STARband treatment, a baby’s head shape appears more symmetrical and rounded, indicating that even though Plagiocephaly might sound concerning, with the right help, the condition is entirely manageable.

The Root Causes of Plagiocephaly: Unpacked

Several causes can lead to Deformational Plagiocephaly, some of which may occur before the baby is born. To give you a better understanding, let’s dive into these causes:

  • Restricted space in the womb: Imagine being cramped in a small space without much room to move. That’s what it can be like for a baby in the womb, particularly when there are multiple fetuses or if the baby is in a breech position. Prolonged pressure on particular areas of the baby’s head due to restricted space can lead to deformation.
  • Use of birth-assistive devices: In some instances, birth may require the use of assistive devices such as vacuum or suction instruments. These tools, although necessary, can create forces that might deform the soft and delicate newborn skull.
  • Prematurity: Babies born before term have skulls that are thinner and more fragile compared to full-term babies. This susceptibility can make them more prone to developing Plagiocephaly.

A Guide to Action: What to Do If Your Baby Has Plagiocephaly

The sight of an unusual head shape in your baby is likely to cause concern. But the key is to stay calm and take appropriate steps:

  1. Engage with your pediatrician: Your pediatrician is your first port of call. Share your observations and concerns about your baby’s head shape. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) encourages pediatricians to evaluate the baby’s head from different angles — top, sides, front, and back — at every visit.
  2. Adopt varied positioning and engage in “tummy time”: Doctors typically advise moving the baby into different positions throughout the day to avoid pressure on one spot. Moreover, “tummy time,” which involves the baby spending supervised awake time on their belly, is integral for healthy growth and preventing flat spots.
  3. Consider a cranial remolding helmet: If your baby, aged between 3 and 18 months, is diagnosed with Deformational Plagiocephaly, Brachycephaly, or Scaphocephaly, your pediatrician might suggest helmet therapy. A cranial remolding helmet is a custom-made helmet that gently corrects the baby’s head shape over time.

The Orthotist: A Crucial Player in the Management of Plagiocephaly

Since 1979, orthotists and prosthetic practitioners have been leading experts in the use of cranial remolding orthoses, and their role in treating Plagiocephaly is indispensable. Their rich experience combined with their deep knowledge in anatomy, biomechanics, material science, and patient care ensures your baby gets the best care possible.

Working collaboratively with other craniofacial team members, these practitioners contribute significantly to achieving optimal results with helmet therapy. The transformation they help facilitate is not only physical but also offers reassurance to concerned families and enhances the overall well-being of the baby.

Understanding Deformational Plagiocephaly might seem daunting, but remember, you’re not alone. Plenty of resources and experts can guide you on this journey. If you’re still curious or need professional advice on selecting a cranial remolding helmet, don’t hesitate to reach out to the Align Clinic today to schedule a consultation and learn more about your baby’s care options.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

What is plagiocephaly?

Plagiocephaly, or “flat head syndrome,” is a condition that results in a flattening of the back of a baby’s head, typically on one side. Its severity can vary. When flatness occurs across the entire back of the head, it’s referred to as brachycephaly.

What is torticollis?

Torticollis refers to a condition where muscles on one side of a baby’s neck tighten, causing the head to tilt towards one shoulder and the chin to rotate to the opposite side. This condition often arises based on the baby’s positioning in the womb.

How are they related?

There’s a common link between torticollis and plagiocephaly. The neck muscle imbalance in babies with torticollis can lead to plagiocephaly as the tilt and rotation forces the baby to lay on the same spot for prolonged periods. Even with physical therapy, the child may still prefer laying on this area, causing further flattening.

Are they common?

Indeed, they are. Since the inception of the Back to Sleep program by the American Academy of Pediatrics in 1992, the number of deformational plagiocephaly cases has increased, while Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) cases have decreased. It’s estimated that up to 46% of otherwise healthy babies have plagiocephaly, and up to 90% of babies born with torticollis also have plagiocephaly.

What are the signs, and when do they begin to appear?

Torticollis signs include the baby having a tilt of the head to one side or an inability to turn their head over both shoulders without twisting their torso. It’s often diagnosed within the first eight weeks of life. Plagiocephaly usually surfaces in the first few months of life, with treatment usually starting between the 4-6 month age range after tummy time and repositioning techniques have been attempted.

How do you treat these conditions?

A physical therapist typically treats torticollis with a personalized treatment plan, watching out for signs of plagiocephaly. Depending on severity, plagiocephaly is treated with tummy time, repositioning, or a cranial remolding orthosis.

How long is the treatment, and how does it work?

Babies prescribed a cranial remolding orthosis, also known as a cranial helmet or cranial band, generally wear the device for 3-6 months. The helmet works by gently limiting excessive growth in prominent areas, allowing the flattened areas of the baby’s head to grow, creating a rounder and more symmetrical shape.

What can parents and caregivers do if they notice signs of plagiocephaly and/or torticollis in their child?

Align Clinic offers a free evaluation to assess your child for plagiocephaly. If you suspect that your child may have torticollis, you should ask your pediatrician for a referral for physical therapy to ensure early treatment.

How would you describe Align Clinic’s approach to care?

Align Clinic is committed to patient-focused care, staying up-to-date on cranial remolding research, and consistently collecting data to ensure the best outcomes. They collaborate with the patient’s broader care team, from physical therapists to referring providers. Each Align Clinic team member fitting cranial helmets is certified to do so. They offer free evaluations to assess head shape severity, and with a broad insurance footprint, they provide appropriate financial counseling prior to treatment.

What advice would you give to parents who just learned their child may have plagiocephaly and/or torticollis?

Reach out to your local Align Clinic and request a free evaluation. The earlier these conditions are detected, the better. Your local clinic can connect you with other families going through similar experiences, providing an additional support system during the treatment process.