Flat head. Sam thinks it’s looking better, I think it’s not. Maybe not any worse though, it’s hard to tell.

A photo posted by Sorry About The Mess (@mostlychloe) on

 


 


 

A few days after Rory was born, I have this vivid memory of gazing at him as he lay in Sam’s arms.

 

My position was side on, so I had a view of the top of his head cradled in the crook of Sam’s elbow.

I made a remark about it being such a perfectly round baby head (I was comparing it to Arlo, whose head had been shaped like a cone in the birth canal, the pressure causing him to have a little goose egg bump at the back).

We laughed and made a joke about how my hormones were obviously going a bit haywire. Who gushes over their newborn’s utterly normal head shape? A new mother, of course.

That’s how I know that when I noticed a very angular diamond shape to his head 6 weeks later, that it hadn’t always been like that.

I googled and quickly realised we were looking at Plagiocephaly – one type of flat head syndrome, where the flatness is to the back of the head, and usually to one side.

I then started to think about more about the fact that Rory always tilted his head to one side. A bit more research and we realised that this wasn’t just the funny little quirk that we thought, but actually something called Torticollis – you know when you pull a muscle in your neck and can’t move it? It’s basically that, and the word Torticollis literally translates to “twisted neck”.

In newborns it’s commonly caused by birth trauma. Whilst Rory’s home birth was in no way traumatic, he did get a little bit stuck at the end. His head had been born, but it was around 5 or 6 contractions before I could successfully push his (huge) body out. Could climbing out of the birth pool with his head between my legs so that the midwives could get a better look at what was going on have caused damage to his neck? Or perhaps his amazingly swift entrance once I managed to get his body moving (he literally shot out) could have done it? Both are quite possible.

A bit of hindsight and google and it was all so obvious. Heavy baby. Torticollis. Any expert would probably have put those two facts together and predicted a high chance of developing flat head syndrome if preventative measures weren’t put in place from birth. Except we didn’t know about these things and we figured it out only after we noticed his flat head at around 6 weeks.

We immediately began assessing our options. One of the more common actions is to see a cranial osteopath to treat the torticollis and any other effects of birth trauma. Lots of people have had success taking their newborns to cranial osteopaths and I was keen to give it a try. But Sam was 100% set against it as cranial osteopathy is not medically certified and he was very uncomfortable about an osteopath treating Rory. He felt so strongly about it, I had to consider his wishes, so I didn’t pursue cranial osteopathy.

Another option is to go down the helmet treatment route. This is done privately and was a cost we couldn’t consider.

Seeing a physiotherapist was something Sam and I were happy to pursue, but the GP wouldn’t even refer Rory, saying there was no point as the wait would be over 6 months and most probably longer.

As with every single medical situation I’ve encountered with my children, getting a GP referral was a dead end, and at the time we didn’t have the money to pursue the private healthcare route to see a physio.

Once again, we were left on our own with only Google for advice.

This is one thing you read about lots with flat head syndrome. The earlier you intervene, the better the chance of correcting head shape. I felt like there was this tiny window to make everything better and if we didn’t try everything we could we’d be failing him.

It wasn’t that I was sad about him having a funny shaped head. It was the more worrying stuff you read online – severe flat head can cause the ears to be lopsided and the forehead to bulge forwards, and google brings up all sorts of possible, if yet unproven, links to learning difficulties and things that go beyond a superficial worry about looks, but could potentially affect his quality of life.

I was anxious to the point of hysterics (hormones) at the thought that we needed to try everything we possibly could. What if repositioning alone wasn’t enough to treat the torticollis? What if there was another underlying problem that we’d missed completely? What if it takes too long to find the right treatment meaning less chance of the plagiocephaly ever being corrected? How do I know which flat head pillow to buy??

There are so many flat head pillows and products you can buy – ones for the car seat, buggy, cot, etc. I very nearly almost bought absolutely everything, filled with an compulsive urge to try absolutely everything we could to help Rory before it was too late.

In the end, Sam managed to appease my urgent panic and we decided the best thing we could do for the moment was concentrate on a couple of changes that we thought would have the most impact.

The first was, as soon as we realised Rory had torticollis, we embarked on repositioning his head and neck as much as possible. Annoyingly, this usually meant disturbing him as soon as he’d nodded off to move his head into a different position. As long as it was comfortable for him, we’d constantly reposition his head to get him to start using those neglected muscles on the other side of his neck. If his neck had been hurting when first born, he was no longer in pain any more, but those muscles were much weaker after several months of not being used, so he continued to default to the same neck position.

I held him and kept him in a sling as much as I possibly could. We swapped sides on the bed (he co-slept in a sidecar cot at night so he always fed with his head facing the same way). I bought a special mattress for his moses basket as I felt the slightly concave mattress led to more restrictive movement for his head. We started using the hammock-like Baby Bjorn balance sitter instead of the more hard, structured bouncy chair we’d had for his first six weeks (Read more about why the Baby Bjorn Balance Sitter is good for flat head syndrome in my post here).

flat head syndrome plagiocephaly

All these things combined did make a big difference and over the course of the next few months the sharp angle of his plagiocephaly had noticeably reduced. The top left photo above was taken at 8 weeks and the bottom right was taken at 5 months.

We then reached the point where he was rolling and sitting up and therefore the pressure was not on that part of his head so frequently. I thought things would continue to progress further after we reached this stage, but to be honest, I haven’t noticed much improvement since then.

Although nowhere near as bad as it was at six weeks, even now at two and a half, his head is still very misshapen at the back. To most people, it probably isn’t noticeable unless you press your hand to the back of his head, but as his mother, I can see it just by looking. And every time I notice it reminds me of the mistakes we made when he was very little. In hindsight it all seems so obvious that we should have been looking out for it.

Although we did the best we could as soon as we realised Rory had positional plagiocephely, it remains one of my biggest sources of “mum guilt” because it feels like it could have so easily been prevented.

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6 comments

  1. Don’t feel guilty – it’s not your fault. I don’t know any new mum – even to their second baby – who starts thinking about flat head syndrome the moment their baby is born. It’s the sort of thing you think about once you notice it and it sounds like you did as much as you could to correct it. You now have a beautiful little boy who has a slightly wonky head which is unnoticeable to most people. He will be fine x

    1. Thanks Donna. I think I come across more emotional about it in this post than is the case in reality. I think even when something isn’t your fault and there’s no other way you would have been able to play it, you still feel guilty because it’s just a natural parent reaction. It was two years ago now and definitely not setting I dwell on every day, but mainly I wrote this thinking it might inform/help others going through it.

  2. I’m a pediatric physical therapist here in the US. It’s mind boggling to me that you couldn’t get in to see a PT in a timely manner!! I’m glad that some reading helped you, and it seems that you figured out some stuff to do. But I’m sad that you didn’t have the resources that our parents get here.

    1. Yes we unfortunately live in a London borough that is notoriously overstretched in its health services. Getting anywhere with a referral from an NHS GP is very difficult. The resources are there if you can pay for private healthcare and lots of people go down that route and can sometimes even claim it from their employer if there are health benefits in place. I think the private side of things is quite similar to the US in that respect.

  3. Just reading this. I had a friend whose first son had this and she had every sort of cushion going. She is similar to you in that she feel enormous guilt about the whole thing despite there not being much more that she could have done to help him.
    Try not to let it get to you too much, although I know that that is easier said than done x

    1. Thanks Sarah. I think the guilt is inevitable because of the fact that flat head syndrome is somewhat preventable, it’s just that you don’t realise it’s happened until it’s happened.

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