Now that parents encourage their children to sleep on their backs to reduce the incidents of SIDS, children tend to prefer one side more than the other. As a consequence, they wind up with a flat spot on their head, a condition that's called plagiocephaly. This is a really common condition that occurs in up to fifty percent of babies.
This flattening is usually one sided. Treatment depends on the severity of the deformity and when a baby or child is taken to the doctor. If recognized in the first three to six months of age, repositioning helps. Just keeping the baby from putting pressure on that side of the head is often all that is required. Molding helmets are an option for severe deformities that don't respond to repositioning. These helmets can be expensive and may take 3 to 6 months of full-time use to be effective. Molding helmets are most effective when used in the first year of life.
An infant's skull grows rapidly in the first year of life because the brain doubles in size by the first year. In order to accommodate such rapid brain growth, the baby's skullcap must expand rapidly as well. Rather than being one single large piece of bone, the skull is made up of several bones, which are held together by sutures. These sutures respond to brain growth by stretching and producing new bone, allowing the skull to grow along with the underlying brain.
Should any of these sutures close or fuse during early months after birth while the brain is growing, craniosynostosis occurs. This is a defect present at birth that causes one or more sutures on a baby's head to close earlier than normal. Sutures are connections that separate each individual skull bones. When a suture closes prematurely, it leads to an abnormal shaped head… sometimes boat shaped… where the head is narrow and long from the front to the back… or triangular shaped when the suture in the middle of the forehead permanently fuses making a ridge down the forehead.
Craniosynostosis does not respond to repositioning or molding helmets and usually requires surgery.
I don't want new parents to panic… just remember… The key to treating any type of head deformity is early diagnosis and intervention. For the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center, I'm Dr. Tedd Mitchell, and this is the President's Prescription.
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