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Baby Head Shapes: Causes and Concerns

By Orgesta Tolaj


5 October 2023

baby head shape

© Jelleke Vanooteghem / Unsplash

Giving birth to a new life is definitely a wonderful and exciting experience. The fact that a human was able to come out of you is impressive and is a thing to always celebrate. Even before your baby is born, you always make a list of preparations and expectations. However, no matter how prepared you think you are, there are still things that will cross your path that you never even knew existed. And one of them is definitely baby head shapes. Yes, you have read that right! Nobody really talks about how the way you hold or care for your baby can change their head shape. Well, that is our cue to come along and help out!

Why Does a Baby Head Shape Change?

The changes in a baby’s head shape can be attributed to various factors, including the mode of birth, positional habits, and birth defects. During birth, the malleability of a baby’s head is crucial to facilitate their passage through the birth canal. The baby’s skull is composed of loosely connected or separate flat bones, with soft spots called fontanelles. This flexibility allows the head to adapt its shape during delivery, which can result in a slightly “squished” appearance, particularly after a vaginal birth or long labor. In contrast, babies born via C-section typically have more rounded heads because they bypass the narrow birth canal. However, even C-section babies may exhibit some head shape changes depending on factors like positioning or prior labor.

Other causes of head shape changes during birth include:

  • Vacuum birth: The use of suction during delivery can lead to a lump on the baby’s head.
  • Forceps: If forceps are used to assist in delivery, the baby’s head may appear “pinched” at the sides.
  • Conehead: Prolonged labor or significant pressure during birth can result in a cone-shaped head as the skull bones shift during delivery.
  • Multiple births: Twins or multiples sharing limited space in the womb may experience flattened areas on their heads.

Additional Positional Causes

In addition to birth-related factors, positional habits can also impact a baby’s head shape. Back sleeping, recommended for safety, can lead to temporary changes, such as flatness on the back or one side of the head, known as positional plagiocephaly. This may occur if a baby spends too much time in car seats, strollers, or rockers or consistently prefers to sleep with their head turned in one direction. Tight neck muscles (muscular torticollis) can contribute to this issue.

Furthermore, certain birth defects can affect a baby’s head shape. Craniosynostosis is a rare condition where some of the baby’s skull bones fuse prematurely, occurring in approximately 1 in 2,500 newborns in the United States. This condition can lead to changes in the head shape and pose serious health risks, including seizures, blindness, and brain damage. Craniosynostosis can result in various head shape abnormalities, such as elongation (scaphocephaly), a flatter forehead on one side, a wide and short head (brachycephaly), flatness at the back, or a triangular appearance.

How Can You Treat Different Baby Head Shapes?

Treatment for different baby head shapes can vary depending on the cause and severity of the condition:

Let It Go Away on Its Own

In many cases, newborns with temporary head shape changes from the birth process do not require any treatment. Bumps and swelling on the head typically resolve within two weeks as the baby’s skull bones naturally shift back into place.

Try At-Home Treatments

If your baby has positional head shape changes, there are at-home methods that may help improve the condition:

  • Place your baby on their back to sleep, but gently turn their head to one side while they are asleep to avoid constant pressure on one spot. Avoid using cushions or clothing to keep their head in place. During the day, hold your baby in various positions to relieve pressure on the head.
  • Use a bright or noisy toy on the side your baby doesn’t prefer to encourage them to turn their head in the opposite direction. You can also attach a small toy to their wrist while they are supervised to encourage head movement. Implement regular tummy time when your baby is awake to strengthen their neck muscles, which can help prevent flattened areas.

Use a Baby Helmet

For babies with more severe or persistent head shape issues, specialized baby helmets may be recommended. These helmets gently mold the baby’s head to a rounder and more symmetrical shape. If your baby’s head remains very flat or misshapen after about four months, a custom medical baby helmet may be prescribed. These helmets are typically worn for up to 22 hours a day for around four months. Before recommending a helmet, the pediatrician will rule out craniosynostosis, a birth defect that requires different treatment approaches, such as surgery.

baby wearing helmet for changing baby head shape
© Jimmy Conover / Unsplash

Additional Treatment Options

In cases where head shape changes are due to more serious causes like craniosynostosis, urgent treatment may be necessary. Craniosynostosis involves the premature fusion of some skull bones and may require surgical intervention to relieve pressure on the brain. In less severe cases, a specialized helmet may be used to reshape the baby’s head gradually.

Is an Uneven Baby Head Shape Concerning?

An uneven head shape in a baby is typically not a cause for significant worry, as it is usually a cosmetic issue. Here are some key points to consider:

First of all, uneven head shapes often result from positional molding, which occurs when a baby’s head experiences consistent pressure on one spot. This pressure can lead to flat spots on the head. It’s important to note that this condition does not cause brain damage or hinder a baby’s overall development.

As a baby develops better head and neck strength and begins to roll over, the pressure on their head becomes more evenly distributed across the skull. Over time, the uneven head shape that is common in newborns often naturally corrects itself. This means that parents can expect gradual improvement without the need for intervention.

How Parents Can Help

Parents can play a role in promoting a more symmetrical head shape by changing their baby’s position regularly. For example, placing the baby on their back to sleep but gently turning their head to one side while they are asleep can help avoid constant pressure on one spot. Additionally, incorporating tummy time into the baby’s daily routine while they are awake can help strengthen neck muscles and encourage a more balanced head shape.

When to See a Doctor for Abnormal Baby Head Shapes

It’s essential to keep up with your baby’s regular check-ups with the pediatrician to monitor their head size and ensure there are no serious concerns related to changes in their head shape. Here are some guidelines on when to see your pediatrician:

Take Your Baby for Regular Check-Ups

Attend all scheduled check-ups with your pediatrician. These appointments are crucial for tracking your baby’s growth and development, including their head size.

Other Concerns to Consider

If you notice anything unusual or different about your baby’s head shape, promptly inform your pediatrician. Some specific signs that should trigger immediate attention include:

  • Persistent Misshapen Head. If your baby’s head shape remains misshapen for two weeks or more after birth, it’s important to discuss this with your pediatrician.
  • Bulging or Swollen Spot. Any bulging or swollen area on your baby’s head should be reported to your doctor.
  • Sunken Soft Spot. If you observe a sunken appearance in the soft spot (fontanelle) on your baby’s head, this should be brought to your pediatrician’s attention.
  • Absence of Soft Spot. If there is no soft spot (fontanelle) on your baby’s head, which is typically present in newborns, this is a significant concern and requires immediate evaluation.
  • Slow or No Growth in Head Size. If your baby’s head size is not showing appropriate growth over time, this can be indicative of underlying issues and should be addressed with your pediatrician.

Do you have any tips for shaping a baby’s head the right way? We would love to know more about your tips and experiences in the comment section.

You might also want to read: This Single Factor Can Change Your Child’s Life

Orgesta Tolaj

Your favorite introvert who is buzzing around the Hive like a busy bee!