Today marks the end of Plagiocephaly Awareness Week in the UK and as a mother to a plagio kid, I would love to see this week acknowledged in the US as well.
For those who aren’t aware, the non-technical definition of plagiocephaly (plagio) is the abnormal flattening of one side of the skull. One cause of plagio is pressure in the womb causing the baby to have a “diamond” shaped head when seen from above. While it’s very rare for a baby to be birthed vaginally and NOT have a mis-shaped head, most babies heads round out after a few weeks. Any abnormal head shape after the 6 week point is considered plagiocephaly. The other common cause of plagio is laying on one side of the head for long periods of time. Soon that side starts to get a little flat and then it becomes the only comfortable way to lay and the baby lays on it ALL the time, worsening the problem. When the “Back to Sleep” campaign launched in 1992, cases of plagiocephaly soared.
Flat head vs Round Head (Image from Google)
Positional plagiocephaly, as the latter type is commonly called, is often exasperated by a condition called torticollis which means “stiff neck.” Babies with torticollis are more prone to plagio because they have a poor range of motion with their head and usually always look/lay/sleep facing the same way and thus, on the same spot on their head. Mason had torticollis and if you look at pictures from when he was a wee baby, he was NEVER looking to the left and always had his head turned to the right. It took months of physical therapy to loosen his neck muscles so he had could look both ways.
There are different degrees of plagiocephaly. A perfectly round headshape has zero millimeters of difference which is probably pretty rare! “Normal” heads measure 0-3 mm of difference. Mild plagiocephaly is considered 4-6 mm and most people don’t start treatment at this level of variance. 7-11 mm is considered moderate plagiocephaly and severe plagiocephaly is 12 mm of difference and up. The more severe the plagio, the more noticeable the flattening and off shape of the head is and the more likely that the child’s ears (and possibly eyes) do not line up properly. At its worst, Mason’s plagio was over 12 mm.
Normal Head vs Plagio Head (Image from Royal Children’s Hospital)
Left untreated, moderate to severe plagiocephaly can lead to obvious problems like being teased, glasses needing special adjustments for un-even eyes and ears, helmets and hats not fitting correctly, and limited hairstyles. But most people are not aware that plagiocephaly can lead to problems with TMJ and migraines and there has also been a strong link shown with children with plagio having noticeable learning delays. It’s definitely NOT just a cosmetic problem.
Statistics from the UK show that 1 in 3 babies have plagiocephaly. Statistics in the US show 1 in 10, which is still a very significant number. While I’ve never met any other local “helmet babies,” everyone I TALK to seems to have a nephew or cousin or child 10 years ago who went through the same thing, so it’s definitely more common than anyone would imagine!
If you’d like to learn more about preventing or treating plagiocephaly, please read last year’s post on that subject! If you think your child has an unusually flat head, talk to your pediatrician and don’t accept “Oh, they’ll grow out of it as an answer – most children DON’T!
This time last year – Eating is Messy / Plagio Awareness II
Two years ago – First Day of Daycare / Baaad Day