28 October 2021

Preemies Often Have Flat Head Syndrome

Premature babies often have to spend time in the neonatal intensive care unit. These precious babies usually receive very good care; however, there are times when issues can arise from this stay. For some babies, one issue they may have to deal with is flat head syndrome. 

Several factors come together to contribute to positional plagiocephaly, which is the formal name for flat head syndrome. Parents of premature babies should know about some of these. 

Why are Preemies at an Increased Risk for Flat Head Syndrome?

A preemie’s skull bones are much softer than a full-term baby’s bones. When a baby is in the NICU, they may have to remain in the same position for long periods because of medical conditions and the treatments for those. 

These tiny babies don’t have the energy or muscle strength to reposition themselves. They rely on the nurses and caregivers to move them when it’s safe to do so. Even when the baby goes through the typical NICU positioning rotation, they may still get flat head syndrome. 

Sometimes, torticollis contributes to flat head syndrome. This condition involves a tightening of the neck muscles. That makes it hard for the baby to turn their head out of a position. Because the baby can’t turn the head, tight muscles might get even tighter. 

What Should Parents Watch For?

Babies who have flat head syndrome will often have a balding spot on the head where the flattening is occurring. This usually happens on the back of the head, but it can also occur on one side. In some cases, the forehead might be uneven or the ear on the affected side may be pushed forward. 

Contacting the baby’s pediatrician is imperative if you notice any of those signs. The baby may need to have special exercises to help reduce the tension in the neck muscles. In moderate to severe cases, the baby will need a special helmet to help shape the head. 

Special baby pillows that help to take the pressure off the flattened spot might also help the baby. Your baby can rest on these pillows when you’re awake to watch them. There are pillows made specifically to help alleviate flat head syndrome. 

Parents may also be able to help by holding the baby often. This gives the baby’s head a break from having pressure on it. Tummy time is also beneficial for babies who are at a higher risk of flat head syndrome. Oftentimes, a comprehensive prevention and treatment program is beneficial.

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