This means regularly varying the position your baby settles and sleeps in. Babies tend to find the same position they find comfortable and you need to alter it to avoid the same pressure being applied to the same part of their head. During the day you can do the following to strengthen your baby’s neck muscles:
- Sleeping – change the direction your baby’s head is facing during naps and bedtime. You can encourage your baby to change direction by himself by swapping ends of the crib to lay him down. If the crib is against a wall he will naturally face the open room rather than the wall so you can hang a mobile on the side you want him to turn to. DO NOT use rolled up linen or towels or positioners to try and keep your baby’s head in place and on one side as this can increase the risk of suffocation or Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.
- Feeding – if you bottle feed, alternate the side you feed him on, as you would if you were breastfeeding. This can help not to constantly apply pressure to the flat spot.
- Sitting – Do not leave your baby in any seat for long periods. For examples; bouncing seat, car seat, baby swing or baby carrier.
- Tummy Time – provides a break for the occipital area (back of their heads) and gives babies a chance to strengthen their neck muscles to prepare them for crawling, pushing up, rolling over, sitting up and eventually standing. It can prevent plagiocephaly because stronger neck muscles help babies to move their heads around while sleeping so it doesn’t always rest in the same position. Babies who aren’t used to being on their tummy from day one may have to be cajoled into it, beginning with a minute or two at a time. Tummy time is also important for motor skill development.
- Physical Therapy – daily exercises which your doctor would talk you through. Gently done, these exercises aim to increase the range of motion in your baby’s neck.
Cranial Orthotic Therapy
If the treatments described in the above points are not working then your doctor may advise this. It involves your baby wearing a helmet or headband (known as a cranial orthotic) which are custom made and worn up to 23 hours per day. Treatment usually lasts between two and six months. The treatment is most successful when begun early which would be six months of age. Some doctors think that it is not very helpful beyond twelve months of age because of the skull bone being too thick by then. The headgear is lightweight and babies get used to wearing them very quickly.
By Eirian Hallinan