Head Shape of a Baby – What’s Normal and What’s Not
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A newborn baby with an uneven head shape is not an uncommon sight. Though it is not a life-threatening situation, parents often worry about it and are keen to take corrective measures at the earliest. Fortunately, with a little patience and some well-meaning advice, it is possible to ensure that your baby gets a perfectly-shaped head.
Why Does the Head Shape of a Baby Appear Uneven?
The bones inside a baby’s skull are soft so that it becomes easy for the head to squeeze through the birth canal during normal delivery. Yet, there is some amount of pressure exerted on the baby’s head during delivery which could result in it becoming elongated or cone-shaped. The soft spots inside the head will take some time to fill and this will happen gradually as the bones come closer and fuse with each other.
Prematurity is also another cause for a baby’s uneven head shape. If the baby is premature, his head will be soft and the bones will not be fully formed. While coming out of the birth canal, there are chances of the head becoming misshapen. Low amniotic fluid in the mother’s womb is another reason for your baby having a misshaped head as there is less cushioning and support. If you are carrying twins or triplets, the babies have lesser space to move around as they have to share the womb. This could also lead to a flat or odd-shaped head.
How Long Does an Infant’s Head Shape Take to Fully Develop
Your newborn baby’s head has two soft spots, one on the top and the other at the back. The fontanelle, which is at the back of the infant’s head, will close at around six weeks. The soft spot at the top of the head is much more obvious to touch and can be seen as a tiny dip of skin. This spot usually closes between 9 and 18 months of age.
Is an Odd Head Shape a Cause for Worry?
Although your baby’s odd-shaped head isn’t a cause for worry, it does seem like a cosmetic issue, especially when the child grows up. It is known as positional moulding and is noticeable when the baby is viewed from the sides or from the top. Fortunately, a flat head does not cause any kind of brain damage nor does it alter the baby’s physical and mental development in any way. As a parent, you should be aware but not unduly worried about it as this will take away the fun and excitement of becoming a parent. As the baby grows, he will have better neck and head control and will be able to distribute the pressure on his skull in an even manner.
Remedies to Treat a Baby’s Uneven Head Shape
Anxious parents can take heart from the fact that their baby’s uneven head shape isn’t going to be a permanent one and it can be altered into a rounded one through simple remedies. Through counter-positioning or repositioning, while your little one is sleeping, playing or feeding, the flat areas of your baby’s head can be reshaped. The following easy-to-follow remedies can be useful in treating your infant’s uneven head shape:
- If your baby sleeps in a crib or a basket, make sure your baby isn’t turned towards one direction for long by turning it around regularly. By alternating the direction of placement, it will ensure that he does not remain in the same position for too long.
- Hold a rattle or a toy in the other direction if you notice your child is focussed on one side for long periods. If he loves looking at the lamp or the fan, move the crib or basket in the opposite direction, so the head turns in that direction and his head is no more on the flat side.
- When the baby sleeps during the day under your watchful eye, encourage him to lie on his side as much as possible. You will then be able to supervise his position and he will rest at a different angle too. This is important since lying on his side could obstruct his breathing which could be dangerous.
- As the baby’s neck muscles get stronger, allow him to spend some time, a minute or two, on his tummy. As he grows, increase this time and you can play and talk to him while he is placed on the stomach. Make sure he does this under your supervision. Increase this time to at least 30 minutes a couple of times every day.
- While breastfeeding or bottle-feeding the baby, you will have a favourite side that you prefer to keep him at. Make sure you change his head direction frequently so the flat portion does not remain depressed for long periods.
Many mothers use a newborn baby head shape pillow, which is horseshoe-shaped, to try and alter the flat shape of their baby’s head. However, the use of a pillow for infants below the age of 12 months is not recommended as it could lead to the risk of suffocation. In fact, pillows, soft toys and loose beddings should be kept away from the baby’s bed as they could obstruct the little one’s breathing process.
When Does Your Baby Need a Helmet?
If the unevenness of your baby’s head does not improve despite all the above-mentioned rectification methods, speak to your paediatrician for an alternative solution. He may recommend the use of a helmet to correct the head shape of the baby, especially if your baby is above the age of 6–8 months of age.
The helmet is useful in providing the right volume of room for the baby’s head to grow in areas where it is flat and restricts growth in other areas. The helmet has to be worn through the entire day and should be taken off only during bathing time. Though effective, this treatment has to be followed diligently as helmet adjustments have to be done frequently as the baby grows. The doctor will recommend the use of the helmet for about 90 days, depending on the response shown. In some cases, the helmet costs and doctor fees can be quite prohibitive.
How to Prevent a Misshapen Head
In order to prevent the flattening of your tiny one’s head, the key is to hold and lay him down in various positions through the day. Unless your doctor has recommended otherwise, always put your baby to sleep on his back. However, you should alternate the position of the head from the feet of the crib to the head of the crib. Your baby will naturally face towards the room door or the window so this will help him turn his head in equal proportions in both directions. This will ensure that the baby’s head does not remain in one direction and the chances of a misshapen head are reduced.
Though an odd-shaped head on your baby can be slightly disturbing, parents shouldn’t worry much on this front. Your baby’s head will soon turn into a more rounded shape and any slight unevenness will be hidden too with the growth of hair on the cute head.