Treatments for Plagiocephaly
Parents can rest easy knowing that plagiocephaly is a very treatable condition with entirely cosmetic effects.
Most plagiobabies respond very well to non-surgical, minimally invasive interventions such as sleep position changes, special exercises, and cranial orthotic devices, such as corrective helmets or headbands.
Sleep Position Changes
Infants who show signs of plagiocephaly development in the early weeks and months of life will most likely be prescribed sleep position changes to reduce and reverse the flattening. This is a crucial time for your baby’s skull growth, and with proper measures your child’s plagiocephaly may be able to resolve itself without further intervention.
While we encourage all parents of infants to follow the American Academy of Pediatrics’ recommendation to place your infant on his or her back to sleep, your child’s physician can prescribe some modifications to promote proper skull formation, such as alternating your baby’s head position while sleeping on his or her back and ensuring your baby spends minimal time on his or her back while awake.
There are several sleeping products on the market (such as sleep positioners, pillows, and special sleeping mats) that claim to prevent plagiocephaly. Do your research AND consult your physician before purchasing any of these, to ensure they will be beneficial for your child’s condition.
Many plagiobabies, especially those with torticollis (a shortening or tightening of the neck muscles causing the head to tilt or turn to one side), can benefit from neck exercises prescribed by their pediatrician and under the guidance of a pediatric physical therapist.
Physical therapy is often prescribed for infants with mild to moderate cases of plagiocephaly. If the parents follow the physician’s recommendations for exercises and sleep positioning, the plagiocephaly may be able to resolve itself without further intervention.
Infants under 3 months old may be prescribed a molding cup such as the Plagio Cradle, developed by specialists at the Boston Children’s Hospital. These molding cups are placed under the baby’s head whenever the baby is lying on his or her back, and are designed to support the baby’s neck and create a hollowed space that gradually reshapes the baby’s head, promoting correct skull growth. As the child grows, adjustments can be made to the molding cup.
The molding cups are effective not only at correcting existing flattening, but also at preventing flattening in babies at risk for developing plagiocephaly, such as babies born prematurely or with muscular torticollis.
Cranial Orthotic Device (Helmet)
For infants with moderate to severe plagiocephaly, a custom cranial orthotic device (corrective helmet) is typically recommended. Your pediatrician may also recommend that you continue with physical therapy.
Corrective helmeting has been used to safely and effectively treat plagiocephaly since 1979. It has been studied extensively and found to have no negative impact on a baby’s brain formation.
Corrective helmeting is most effective for babies 4-8 months old, when skulls are at their fastest growing rate. Since the baby’s head is growing so fast, he or she will need to wear the helmet 21-23 hours per day for maximum results. The typical duration for wearing the helmet is 3-6 months, but varies depending on the child’s age and the severity of the plagiocephaly.
The helmet is custom made for your baby using a lightweight plastic shell with a foam liner. The helmet acts as a brace to redirect and promote the proper growth of the baby’s skull. Don’t worry, it is not painful, nor does it squeeze the baby’s head. As the Boston Children’s Hospital aptly stated, the helmet is simply a “passive restraint to growth in areas that are overgrown while allowing uninhibited growth in areas that are flat.”
Think about it: it was easy and painless for your baby’s head to flatten over time by gently lying against a bed, car seat, or other soft surface, because an infant’s skull is so soft and malleable and growing so rapidly. It is just as easy and painless to reverse the flattening process with a corrective helmet, provided the flattening is addressed in time.
Your pediatrician or plagiocephaly specialist will recommend a company who can manufacture the helmet.
There is no reason to not expect your infant’s head to respond positively to corrective helmeting; however, keep in mind that most human heads are not perfectly symmetrical, even without corrective helmeting.