Infant Head Flattening: Reshaping the Skull
New parents have plenty to be concerned about, but on top of those daily worries, there is a condition called deformational plagiocephaly – the flattening of the head seen on some young babies. Diagnosed early, this condition is very treatable.
An infant’s skull has open growth sutures. This means the plates and bones of the skull are mobile – they have not yet completely fused together. Also, an infant’s skull tissue is very soft and thin.
Most babies, as much as 75 percent, will lay more on the right side of their head. This repeated, gentle pressure on just one side of the head can create a flattening effect – the back of the head flattens, and the skull moves outward on the opposite side. This is a shifting of the entire skull base and face, and with some children, it can be severe.
DMC Pediatric Plastic Surgery Specialist Dr. Arlene Rozzelle treats this malformation. “It’s important to catch this early,” says Rozzelle. “It’s something pediatricians look for with each appointment.”
In some mild cases, it can be treated by getting the baby to lay on their other side, monitoring the shape of the head to make sure it is evening out. This approach must be done early in the infant’s life – after the three-month point, if the asymmetry is still significant, the most effect treatment is to use a molding helmet.
An individualized helmet is created for the child by using a laser scan of the head to create a shape that would be symmetrical. Then, a custom helmet is built that will put gentle pressure when the skull is sticking out, and leaving a space where the skull is flat.
“As the child skull continues to rapidly grow, it has to fill out the area that needs to round out,” says Dr. Rozzelle. “The helmet won’t let it keep growing in the abnormal direction.”
Parents are instructed to keep the helmet on “23/7” – it can be removed for bathing, or special occasions, but since there is no way of knowing when the child is growing, it has to be on when the growth spurt occurs.
The parents we spoke to for this interview found the helmet working out very well – some reporting as much as a 90 percent improvement in just four months. They also reported that the infant did not seem to mind the helmet at all, and it did not interfere with the child’s quality of life.
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