During the first few months of a baby’s life their head is relatively soft, unlike an adult head, which is nearly as hard as a rock. This softness certainly makes it easier for the baby to travel through mom’s birth canal. It also allows their head to expand to accommodate their rapidly growing brain. As they get older, their skulls begin to harden and soon begin to feel more like an adult or kid’s hard head. (Literally and figuratively!)
There is, of course, a downside to babies having soft skulls, namely that their heads often become misshapen. If you look closely, you will notice that about half of all babies today have some flattening of the back of their head. This occurs because many babies spends a lot of time resting a certain spot on their heads on a mattress, car seat, or stroller, or other device. Their head develop a flat spot, much like a water balloon lying on a sidewalk. The older they get the harder the flat spot is to correct because their head is firming up as they get older.
Fortunately, this effect also occurs in reverse. If the baby’s head is no longer allowed to rest against the firm surface then their head will ‘remodel’ and reacquire its beautiful round shape. This can be challenging, however, as babies tend to find a comfortable position and don’t want to change how they hold their head. So an effective repositioning aid plus good repositioning practice is important and effective in correcting this problem. The earlier the better as it’s much harder to correct the problem as the child gets older. Physical therapists are excellent at supporting your repositioning efforts.
If a child has a misshapen head after 6-months of age then it is often necessary for the child to wear and orthotic helmet to correct the problem. The corrective principle is the same; the pressure on the flat area is removed by the shape of the helmet so that the head can ‘remodel’ to its natural shape. In most cases the child will emerge from helmet therapy with a beautiful round head and not remember the experience.
So keep an eye on the shape of your baby’s head. It’s important, and completely within your power to identify and correct any head shape problems.
Dr. Jane Scott