Deformational Plagiocephaly: Prevention and Treatment

December 12, 2019
Deformational plagiocephaly is an aesthetic problem that can interfere with your baby's self-esteem when they grow up, impacting their childhood and adolescence. Learn more about it and how to prevent it in this article.

Deformational plagiocephaly is the most common craniofacial anomaly. It consists of an asymmetric distortion of a baby’s skull. With this condition, the skull appears sort of flattened in the posterior (occipital) area and has a rhomboid shape.

This disorder is purely aesthetic and doesn’t affect the intellectual development of a baby. There’s a high incidence of it and is mainly due to the posture in which a baby sleeps. For example, it might happen if the baby always sleeps on their backs, or with their heads always leaning on the same side.

However, the condition may also be present at birth. In such cases, it might be due to a narrowing of the mother’s pelvis or even a complication during delivery.

In today’s article, we’re going to explain how to prevent and treat it.

Why does deformational plagiocephaly happen?

Plagiocephaly is due to pressure exerted on a baby’s skull. It may happen during fetal development, at or after delivery.

The incidence of plagiocephaly increased markedly now that pediatricians now advice to place a baby on their back when they sleep. This position is to prevent sudden infant death syndrome while they sleep. However, it also exerts the continuous pressure on the same area of ​​the skull that ends up deforming it. Similarly, baby carriers are also linked to this increase in incidence.

A woman about to kiss a baby.

Other situations that may lead to plagiocephaly are:

  • Premature delivery
  • Congenital muscular torticollis. It causes the baby to always rest on the same area of ​​their skull
  • An inappropriate position inside the uterus
  • Trauma during childbirth

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Symptoms of deformational plagiocephaly

As we mentioned before, this is a purely aesthetic condition and doesn’t compromise the intellectual development of the baby. At its worse, it leads to facial and cranial asymmetry, so it may be quite visible. It also may alter the alignment of the ears and create a bulge in the forehead.

Plagiocephaly can decisively determine a baby’s future self-esteem. Therefore, it’s very important to have certain measures at hand to be able to prevent and treat it in time.

How can I prevent it?

Because babies should sleep on their back, it’s important to move them around so their head posture changes. Ideally, alternate their support side between left and right when they sleep.

Doctors also recommend that the child spends some time upside down while they’re awake. “Tummy time” is a method with which to develop the motor skills of your baby. You must only do so while the baby is awake. The method is about placing the baby upside down. Parents can either lay the baby on their chest, in bed or any other comfortable surface. Ideally, spend some time playing with them in this position. You must keep an eye on them at all times, though. The baby’s muscular capacity is also reinforced through these activities.

Mainly, you should avoid extended head support in just one posture. To do so you can hold the baby in your arms or place them in chairs that don’t put pressure on their skull. Therefore, don’t use seats that keep the baby in the same posture for a long time, such as car retention devices. If you do need to use them, take breaks and help them change positions.

Also, you can do other interactive measures. For example, you can place toys on the other side of their crib. That way the baby will have to turn their head. Another way is to lift the mattress slightly to tilt it a bit.

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Treatment for deformational plagiocephaly

A baby sleeping in a car, unconcerned about deformational plagiocephaly.

This treatment is only for cases when the previous measures didn’t work.

First, you can use shaping helmets, as these apply moderate pressure on the skull. Also, they keep the head from leaning on the already deformed side. The helmets are a dynamic orthotic cranioplasty system and babies can use them from their third month of age. You must check them often.

Doctors only resort to surgery in severe cases. In fact, they only resort to it as a last measure after everything else fails.

In conclusion

You must follow prevention measures to prevent this deformity from happening to your baby. These are simple exercises and measures that’ll keep your baby from developing a significant unsightly problem.

Similarly, you should consult a doctor if you have any questions or perceive any anomalies. They’ll surely advise you on what to do to help your baby.

  • Deformidades de la cabeza: la plagiocefalia postural | EnFamilia. (n.d.). Retrieved May 29, 2019, from https://enfamilia.aeped.es/temas-salud/plagiocefalia-postural
  • PLAGIOCEFALIA. Tratamiento niños de Plagiocefalia, braquicefalia y escafocefalia. (n.d.). Retrieved May 29, 2019, from http://www.plagiocefalia.es/
  • Vergara-Acevedo, S. E., & Criales-Cort??s, J. L. (2001). Plagiocefalia. Gaceta Medica de Mexico, 137(4), 371–372.
  • Esparza, J., Hinojosa, J., Muñoz, M., Romance, A., García-Recuero, I., & Muñoz, A. (2014). Diagnóstico y tratamiento de la plagiocefalia posicional. Protocolo para un Sistema Público de Salud. Neurocirugía, 18(6), 457–467. https://doi.org/10.1016/s1130-1473(07)70252-x