Finding a flat spot on an infant’s head can be a scary moment for a parent. For many years, scarce amounts of information left many parents in the dark — but Jennifer Barnard is trying to switch on the light.
Plagiocephaly, more commonly known as flat head syndrome, is a condition caused by laying an infant on their back while sleeping. The tendency to lie on one side can cause a flattened spot on a child’s head. It can also lead to other conditions such as torticollis, which is tightness on one side of the neck.
Devonshire mother Kendall Coleman experienced it firsthand when her child’s pediatrician discovered a flat spot on her infant daughter’s head.
“It [the condition] was all totally new,” Coleman said.
Coleman’s pediatrician referred her to Barnard, a Plano occupational therapist who works exclusively with babies who suffer from plagiocephaly and torticollis.
Coleman said Barnard taught her simple techniques and treatments that can help correct the common conditions. She also said Barnard made her aware of daily habits that could be worsening her child’s condition.
Here are a few suggestions from the Mayo Clinic about positioning your baby that can help minimize head unevenness.
- Change direction: Continue to place your baby on his or her back to sleep, but alternate the direction your baby’s head faces when sleeping. You might also hold your baby with alternate arms at each feeding. If your baby returns to the original position while sleeping, adjust his or her position next time.
- Hold your baby: Holding your baby when he or she is awake will help relieve pressure on your baby’s head from swings, carriers, and infant seats.
- Try tummy time: With close supervision, place your baby on his or her tummy to play. Make sure the surface is firm.
- Get creative: Position your baby so that he or she will have to turn away from the flattened side of the head to look at you or to track movement or sound in the room. Move the crib occasionally to give your baby a new vantage point. Never rest your baby’s head on a pillow or other type of soft bedding.
Barnard worked in pediatric occupational therapy for eight years before she said she felt a longing to help more families avoid the use of the ubiquitous corrective helmets.
“It seemed to me there was more consideration in treating the flat head with a helmet rather than in preventing it,” Barnard said. “An important piece of the puzzle was missing and I knew what that piece was.”
So Barnard founded her company, Baby Begin, which consists of a series of in-home treatments that can correct flat head syndrome and torticollis. This includes alternative ways to hold the baby, strategic repositioning, educating about carrier usage, and therapeutic stretches and activities.
According to Barnard, these simple changes can make a huge impact — helping to eliminate the need for helmets.
Dr. Julie Linderman of Inwood Village Pediatrics said she knows how crucial it is to treat these conditions early, because her son was affected.
“The pediatrician I saw, told me not to worry about it, that it would correct with time,” Linderman said. “I didn’t worry about it. Luckily, Holden is as handsome as they come, but he does still hold his head tilted slightly to the side and if you really look, he still has some plagiocephaly. Of course, no one is perfectly symmetric, but if I knew then what I know now, I would have sought physical therapy services.”
Barnard said she advises parents to be proactive by checking for possible signs of plagiochepaly including ear misalignment and flat spots.
“Take care of it before it becomes an issue,” Barnard said. “Don’t be afraid to discuss your concerns with your pediatrician. The wait-and-see approach is not going to fix anything.”
Barnard said her ultimate goal is to help eradicate plagiocephaly entirely.
“It’s really special because you get to celebrate with the family,” Barnard said. “It’s small, but it really is truly going to affect that baby forever. Her pigtails are going to look good, the glasses are going to fit correctly, and now when she wears her crown — it will fit perfectly.”