Frequently Asked Questions
Below are some frequently asked questions about plagiocephaly. If your questions are not answered here, please contact us for more information!
Craniosynostosis is a serious birth defect where the joints between a baby’s skull close prematurely, before the brain is fully formed. It can affect brain development and treatment usually involves surgery.
Not all babies with plagiocephaly also have torticollis – but it’s not uncommon to see the two together. Plagiobabies may favor one side of their head, which shortens or tightens the sternocleidomastoid (SCM) muscle, limits their range of motion and causes the head to turn or tilt to one side.
Torticollis can also be caused by placement in utero, lack of space in utero (often present with large baby, small mother, or multiples) or trauma during the birth process.
Signs to look for include a flattened appearance on the back of the baby’s head (brachycephaly) or on the sides, resulting in an elongated appearance (scaphocephaly). Other signs include:
- the baby’s forehead may be more prominent on one side
- one ear may be pushed more forward than the other
- one eye may appear larger than the other
- one cheek may appear fuller than the other
- the baby’s nose may appear pushed to one side
- the baby’s head may be tilted to one side or the baby has difficulty turning his/her head (possibly resulting from torticollis).
Generally your child’s pediatrician can diagnose plagiocephaly by a thorough examination, without an x-ray or CT scan.
Some research indicates possible vision and jaw alignment issues with untreated plagiocephaly, but for the most part it is widely accepted to be cosmetic in nature.
Treatments include repositioning and physical therapy exercises, and for more advanced cases, helmet therapy may be advised.
In any event, as soon as you notice that your baby’s head may be misshapen, contact your child’s pediatrician for an examination and proper diagnosis.
There is some evidence that vision and jaw alignment issues could result from a misshapen head. But even if the long-term effects are purely cosmetic, consider the effect on the child’s self-esteem. Many adults with untreated plagiocephaly have reported on the suffering they endured because of their deformed head shape.
Rolled towels, special pillows and sleep positioners may be recommended by your child’s physician to elevate the flattened side away from external forces that contribute to flattening such as the floor, crib mattress, car seat, baby swing, etc.
Ask your doctor for a timeline of when to seek other treatments such as helmet therapy. Repositioning does not always work, especially if the baby is a bit older and treatment was delayed, or the plagiocephaly is severe enough to warrant a more “aggressive” treatment.
(Note: Though we used the term “aggressive,” helmet therapy is not invasive or painful in any way. It is extremely gentle and causes no pain or discomfort to the child.)
The general rule is, the sooner the plagiocephaly is diagnosed and treated, the faster correction will result. The younger the child, the more malleable their skull is and therefore receptive to re-formation.
According to plagiosupport.org,
“Insurance companies can be very stubborn. Call and ask your provider if this is something they cover. If they give you a flat-out “no”, ask them to check under ‘durable medical equipment’. If they still say no, prepare yourself for a fight. It may take some time, and you might consider starting treatment before approval, if you have an older child. On your part it may take several appeals and hours of research, but these fights have been won over and over in the past.”
If your insurance company does not cover the cost of your child’s helmet, apply for a grant from The Halo Project!
Look for a specialist who has experience with infants.
Some helmet manufacturers will “band” babies up to 24 months old; however, treatment within the first year is found to be most effective.
The earlier the diagnosis and treatment, the better your chances of success!
Take off the helmet only during the prescribed time, and wash your baby’s head using shampoo. Then clean the helmet using whatever cleaning agent the manufacturer recommends. Then, if possible, place the helmet in direct sunlight for the remainder of the “off time”. This helps to reduce odor and reduce any yellowing appearance.
Helmets can be decorated to virtually anything you can imagine to either answer the question (some say “fixin’ my melon” – watermelon theme; or “fixin’ my flat” – car theme) or make the helmet appear less medical.