Why do babies get a flat head shape in the first place?


Knowing why your baby has a flat head is important because often as a parent you blame yourself.

Take a breath, It is not your fault, baby's head shape is a result of factors that aren't really under your control.

 Let's look at those factors so you can understand why baby's head shape may be flat and some  proactive things you can do to help. 

Parents often think a flat head happens because baby is lying down for a long time and the weight of the babies head flattens it out.

But the cause starts much earlier than this and so when it comes to helping fix babies flat head you'll need to know about the 4 factors that can change the head shape:

1. Position in the womb

2. The Birth Process

3. Muscles

4. Bones

Babies Position in the Womb

You'll remember that late in pregancy you can feel which way baby is lying, this happens for all babies, because as they get bigger there isn't as much room for them to move.

But for some babies if their their head is pushed up hard against the side of the ribs or pelvis then this can cause the skull to change shape. This can happen because babies bones are soft and there are spaces between their skull bones.

But don't let this worry you! Although it sounds scary it's actually the way that baby is designed to keep them safe and to ensure their brain can't be damaged.

Baby Clever Head!

Look at this picture of baby's skull from above. You can see the big spaces between the bones, this means that if baby's head has pressure on it then the bones can move and change shape.

This protects the precious contents of the skull - the brain.

So if this happened with your baby, then "clever baby" they changed their head shape to protect their brain, and that's great because helping a damaged brain is either very hard going or impossible whereas fixing head shape problems is usually very straightforward.

The Birth Process

The birth process can mean lots of pressure on babies skull - unless of course it was a ceasarean birth (C Section).

And under this pressure, babies head shape changes, it's the same way we spoke about above and it's again a great thing as it prevents damage to the brain.

The difference though is that the forces on the skull during birth are stronger than from the position in the womb. However with birth although these forces are stronger they last for a shorter time. 

These forces are present at most births, but the more difficult the birth or the more intervention needed (forceps, vaccuum extraction)  the greater the forces on babies skull. 

Muscles and Bones

Babies are very good at adpating, as we have seen they can use their bones to help cope with pregancy and birth. But they can also adapt by using their muscles to absorb and reduce the forces on their body and skull. 

Every time we walk we absorb the forces involved by using our muscles to bend and move our limbs. But have you ever missed a step and jarred your whole body? The difference was that you didn't get a chance to use your muscles to adapt your body shape and absorb the force.  

It's not good for baby's body or brain to be jarred, so to avoid this they use the ability of their muscles to move and stretch. This is particularly vital during the birth process as it helps baby avoid damage from the strong forces present at birth.

Stretchy Baby

We all know that we get less flexible as we get older and that kids can stretch better than adults. I tell you this so that you understand how flexible a new born baby is. So whether it was in the womb or during birth baby can turn and rotate their neck a very long way in order to make life as comfortable as possible and to avoid damage. 

This can mean that the muscles shorten on one side of the neck and lengthen on the other, if that happens baby will find it difficult (and often painful) to turn their neck to one side. As in the picture they stay turned to their comfy short muscle side and then that side of the head will flatten.

What this all means

Is that baby's head shape is formed by the muscles and bones adpating to the birth process and the presures on baby in the womb.

if we look for it we can sometimes see baby has a head shape problem when they are born. But commonly head shape can look fine at birth but then by about 6 weeks there is a problem. What happens here is usually that the muscles have done a great job of absorbing the forces and protecting baby, but they are out of balance and often shortened  on one side. Then when baby starts to grow that imbalance pulls on the bones and of course also causes baby to lie to one side. After a few week this causes the head shape problems

How to Fix Baby Head Shape Problems

Now you understand why your baby has a head shape problem you''ll hopefully have let go of any blame that this was in any way your fault.

Also you might even celebrate a little as it meant baby's amazing body was at work protecting their brain.

However, parenting is about dealing with the here and now so you probably aren't celebrating too hard! Instead you'll be looking at what to do to help baby improve their head shape. If so you will want to read this article on fixing baby's flat head shape as it covers the 4 main processes that you can use to change baby's head shape

You might also enjoy this article on building an easy daily routine to change baby's flat head as it builds on those 4 principles  mentioned above.

Dr. Jonathan Evans

This article was written by Dr. Jonathan Evans, a Registered Osteopath, who practices at the ION Well Child Clinic in Australia.

Dr. Evans trained in London, England at the British College of Osteopathic Medicine where he graduated  in 1987 with 1st Class Honours.

Since then he has working extensively with new mums, babies and children both in New Zealand and Australia. use this link if you would like to read more of his articles on babies and children.


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