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Understanding and Managing Deformational Plagiocephaly: A Guide for Parents

Understanding Deformational Plagiocephaly: Causes and DifferentiationWhen it comes to our little ones, their health and wellbeing are top priorities. As parents, we want to ensure that they are growing and developing in the best possible way.

However, sometimes, certain conditions can affect their physical appearance. One such condition is deformational plagiocephaly, also known as positional plagiocephaly or flat head syndrome.

In this article, we will delve into the definition, causes, and differentiation of deformational plagiocephaly. So, let’s get started and gain a better understanding of this condition.

Definition and Causes

Deformational plagiocephaly refers to the flattening of one side of an infant’s head or the entire back of the head due to prolonged pressure. This condition often arises from factors such as neck muscle problems and head-turning preferences.

When a baby consistently rests their head on the same spot for extended periods, it can lead to skull flattening and alter the shape of their head.

Differentiating from Craniosynostosis

It’s important to differentiate deformational plagiocephaly from craniosynostosis, as they can have similar physical appearances. Craniosynostosis involves the premature fusion of skull bones, leading to an abnormal head shape.

In deformational plagiocephaly, however, there is no fusion of skull bones. The flattening of the head occurs due to external factors rather than an intrinsic problem with bone development.

Factors that Increase Risk

Various risk factors contribute to the development of deformational plagiocephaly. Firstly, tight space in the uterus can limit the baby’s movement and result in increased pressure on particular areas of their skull.

Additionally, twins or multiples have a higher chance of developing the condition due to the reduced space available in the womb. Muscular torticollis, a condition in which the neck muscles tighten and limit neck movement, can also contribute to an increased risk.

Premature babies often have softer skull bones, making them more susceptible to flattening. Other factors associated with deformational plagiocephaly include back sleeping, being the first-born child, being male, and instrumental delivery.

Symptoms and Development over Time

The first noticeable symptom of deformational plagiocephaly is a flat spot on one side of the head or the back of the head. During the first few months of a baby’s life, the skull is soft and malleable, making it more prone to changes in shape.

If left untreated, the flat spot can become more prominent over time. It’s important to remember that deformational plagiocephaly does not affect brain development or cause any intellectual or developmental disabilities.

Treatment Options

Fortunately, deformational plagiocephaly can often be resolved without the need for surgery. Simple changes in daily routines can make a significant difference.

One key method is repositioning the baby’s head during sleep to prevent pressure on a specific area. Using a special pillow or mattress that offers better support and promotes proper head alignment can also help.

Tummy time, where the baby spends supervised time on their stomach, can strengthen their neck muscles and reduce the likelihood of developing a flat spot. Physical therapy may be recommended for cases where muscular torticollis is present.

In more severe cases, a helmet or cranial orthosis may be prescribed. These devices help to reshape the skull by applying gentle pressure in targeted areas.

It’s worth noting that the use of a helmet or cranial orthosis is most effective when applied during the first few months of a baby’s life when their skull is still developing.

Prevention and The Importance of Awareness

Prevention is always better than cure, and being aware of the risk factors can help parents take proactive measures. Varying the position of the baby’s head during sleep, providing adequate tummy time, and alternating the side you carry your baby on can all contribute to preventing deformational plagiocephaly.

It’s also important to educate caregivers, such as daycare providers and family members, about the condition so that they can assist in implementing preventative measures.


Deformational plagiocephaly, also known as positional plagiocephaly or flat head syndrome, is a condition that affects the shape of an infant’s head. Understanding the causes and risk factors associated with this condition can empower parents to take action and implement preventative measures.

By providing proper head support and encouraging regular changes in head position during sleep, parents can greatly reduce the likelihood of their baby developing deformational plagiocephaly. Remember, early detection and intervention are key to ensuring your little one grows up with a beautifully shaped head.

Diagnosis and Treatment: Understanding and Managing Deformational PlagiocephalyIn our previous discussions, we explored the causes, risk factors, and possible prevention of deformational plagiocephaly. Now, let’s dive deeper into the diagnosis and treatment of this condition.

Understanding how it is diagnosed and the various treatment options available can help parents effectively manage and address deformational plagiocephaly in their little ones.

Diagnosis Process

Diagnosing deformational plagiocephaly involves a combination of physical examination and evaluation of an infant’s head shape. During a physical examination, a healthcare provider will carefully feel the head and sutures to assess if any abnormalities or asymmetry are present.

The size and shape of the head will also be measured to establish a baseline and track changes over time. Additionally, additional assessments may be performed to rule out other conditions that may have similar physical appearances, such as craniosynostosis.

These assessments may include imaging tests, such as X-rays or CT scans, to thoroughly examine the skull and determine if there is any fusion of the skull bones. It’s important to remember that deformational plagiocephaly is a non-surgical condition.

Unlike craniosynostosis, there is no fusion of the skull bones present.

Treatment Approaches

Fortunately, most cases of deformational plagiocephaly can be managed without invasive measures. The first-line treatment options primarily focus on repositioning therapy and lifestyle changes.

Here are some treatment approaches that can help:

1. Repositioning Therapy: Repositioning your baby’s head during sleep is crucial to prevent further flattening and promote even head shape development.

Alternating the direction in which their head rests, using a firm mattress or pillow that supports the head, and avoiding prolonged positioning on one particular area can all contribute to a more symmetrical head shape. 2.

Tummy Time: Regular tummy time, where the baby spends supervised time on their stomach while awake, is an excellent way to strengthen the neck and shoulder muscles. This helps prevent and correct positioning-related head deformities.

Start with short periods of tummy time and gradually increase the duration as your baby gets more comfortable. 3.

Minimizing Infant Device Use: Spending prolonged periods in infant devices, such as car seats, swings, or bouncers, can lead to continued pressure on the back of the head. Whenever possible, limit the time your baby spends in these devices and instead provide supervised playtime on a blanket or mat to encourage natural movement.

4. Physical Therapy: In cases where muscular torticollis contributes to deformational plagiocephaly, physical therapy may be recommended.

A physical therapist will work with you and your baby to improve neck muscle strength, flexibility, and range of motion through gentle exercises and stretches. 5.

Cranial Orthotic Helmet: In more severe or persistent cases, when repositioning therapy alone is not sufficient, a cranial orthotic helmet may be considered. These custom-made helmets help reshape the skull by applying gentle pressure to targeted areas.

The helmet is worn for several months, and regular check-ups with the healthcare provider ensure the helmet is correctly adjusted to accommodate your baby’s growth.

Complications Without Treatment

If left untreated, deformational plagiocephaly can lead to uneven head shape and a moderate to severe flat spot that may not improve naturally. Furthermore, asymmetry in the face and skull can develop, and the ears may become misaligned.

Addressing and managing deformational plagiocephaly early greatly increases the chances of successful treatment and a more symmetrical head shape.

Prevention and When to Seek Medical Help

While proactive measures can significantly reduce the risk of deformational plagiocephaly, sometimes despite best efforts, it may still occur. Here are some preventive measures to consider:


Tummy Time: Incorporate regular tummy time into your baby’s daily routine, starting from birth. This helps strengthen the neck muscles and reduces the likelihood of sustained pressure on the back of the head.

2. Limit Infant Device Use: Minimize the time your baby spends in infant devices that restrict head movement.

Opt for supervised playtime on a blanket or mat instead. 3.

Hold Upright: When carrying your baby, vary the position and direction in which you hold them. This helps prevent prolonged pressure on one area of the head.

It’s important to recognize when medical evaluation may be necessary for your baby’s head shape. If you notice significant asymmetry, a persistent flat spot, or any concerns regarding head shape, consult your healthcare provider.

They can assess the situation, provide a diagnosis, and guide you on appropriate treatment options if needed.


Diagnosing and treating deformational plagiocephaly involves a combination of physical examination, head shape evaluation, and ruling out other conditions. By implementing repositioning therapy, encouraging tummy time, minimizing infant device use, considering physical therapy, and, in some cases, opting for a cranial orthotic helmet, parents can effectively manage and correct the condition.

Prevention through tummy time, limiting infant device use, and holding your baby upright can also help reduce the risk. Remember, early intervention and ongoing monitoring are key to ensuring your little one’s head develops symmetrically and beautifully.

Key Points and Next Steps: Managing Deformational PlagiocephalyThroughout this article, we have explored the definition, causes, risk factors, diagnosis, and treatment options for deformational plagiocephaly. Now, let’s summarize the key points about this condition and discuss the next steps that parents can take to effectively manage and address it.

Key Points About Deformational Plagiocephaly

1. Lasting Flat Spot: Deformational plagiocephaly can result in a lasting flat spot on one side of the head or the entire back of the head.

Early detection and intervention are crucial for successful treatment and preventing long-term asymmetry. 2.

Treatment Steps: The first-line treatment approaches for deformational plagiocephaly include repositioning therapy, tummy time, minimizing infant device use, and physical therapy. If these measures do not provide sufficient improvement, a cranial orthotic helmet may be considered.

3. Cranial Orthotic Helmet: A cranial orthotic helmet is a customized device that gently reshapes the baby’s skull by applying even pressure to targeted areas.

It is typically worn for several months, and regular check-ups with the healthcare provider ensure proper adjustment and progress. 4.

Conservative Treatment: In most cases, deformational plagiocephaly can be successfully managed with conservative measures, such as repositioning therapy. Non-invasive treatments are prioritized, and surgery is not typically required.

5. Early Attention: It’s important to address deformational plagiocephaly as early as possible.

The malleability of an infant’s skull during the first few months of life allows for more effective reshaping. Early attention and intervention can lead to better outcomes.

Next Steps for Parents

1. Tips for Healthcare Visits: When visiting healthcare providers in relation to your baby’s deformational plagiocephaly, it’s helpful to come prepared.

Here are some tips to maximize the effectiveness of these visits:

– Inform the healthcare provider about any concerns you have regarding your baby’s head shape. – Take note of any changes you have observed in the head shape or flat spots and share these details with the healthcare provider.

– Be prepared to answer questions about your baby’s sleeping position, daily activities, and any past medical conditions. 2.

Maximizing Information: To ensure you are well-informed and equipped to manage deformational plagiocephaly, consider the following steps:

– Educate yourself about the condition through reliable resources, such as books, websites, and information from reputable healthcare organizations. – Discuss the condition with your healthcare provider, who can provide guidance and answer any questions you may have.

– Join support groups or online communities where you can connect with other parents who have experienced or are currently managing deformational plagiocephaly. They can offer valuable insights and support.

3. Monitoring Progress: As you implement the recommended treatment options, it’s important to monitor your baby’s progress and stay in touch with your healthcare provider.

Regular check-ups will allow the provider to assess the effectiveness of the treatment and make any necessary adjustments. 4.

Patience and Persistence: Reshaping the skull and improving head shape takes time and consistency. It’s essential for parents to remain patient and persistent in following the recommended treatment approaches.

Results may not be immediate, and gradual progress should be expected. 5.

Emotional Support: Dealing with deformational plagiocephaly can be emotionally challenging for parents. Remember to seek emotional support when needed, whether from a partner, family and friends, or counseling services.

Having a strong support system can make the journey easier to navigate.


Managing deformational plagiocephaly requires a proactive approach from parents, healthcare providers, and caregivers. By understanding the key points about this condition, parents can take the necessary steps to address and treat it effectively.

From implementing repositioning therapy and encouraging tummy time to considering a cranial orthotic helmet if needed, parents play a vital role in their baby’s journey towards a more symmetrical head shape. By maximizing information, monitoring progress, and seeking emotional support when needed, parents can navigate this process with confidence.

Remember, early attention and ongoing commitment to treatment are key to optimal outcomes for your little one. In conclusion, deformational plagiocephaly, also known as positional plagiocephaly or flat head syndrome, is a condition that affects the shape of an infant’s head.

Key points to remember include the lasting flat spot that can result if left untreated, the importance of early attention and intervention, and the effectiveness of conservative treatment approaches like repositioning therapy and physical therapy. In more severe cases, a cranial orthotic helmet can be considered.

Parents should take proactive steps to educate themselves, seek medical evaluation when necessary, and monitor progress closely. By addressing deformational plagiocephaly early and consistently, parents can help their little ones achieve a more symmetrical head shape and support their development.

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