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"Flat Head" Syndrome: Leaving Babies Supine For Too Long Can Change The Shape Of Their Skulls

It's easy to see why it's known as "flat head".

James Felton

James Felton

James Felton

James Felton

Senior Staff Writer

James is a published author with four pop-history and science books to his name. He specializes in history, strange science, and anything out of the ordinary.

Senior Staff Writer

A baby lying on its back.

Encouraging your baby to sleep in different conditions can help prevent flat head. 

Image credit: fizkes/

Here's something nobody warns you about until you are about to have, or have recently had, a baby: their skulls are surprisingly malleable. 

When babies are born, they have soft spots on their skulls where the bones have not yet fused together. Strange as they are to discover on your baby's noggin, they serve us well during childbirth, allowing for the infant's head to be compressed as it exits the birth canal. These spaces, known as fontanelles, also allow for brain and skull growth over the newborn's first year, fusing together over the child's first 18 months. 


However, there are downsides to having a malleable head, as one recent viral tweet has informed everybody.

As strange as it looks, it is a real condition.

"Babies’ skulls are very soft and the bones can be affected by pressure. Babies also have weak neck muscles. Because of this, they tend to turn their heads to one side when placed on their backs," the Canadian Paediatric Society explained in a piece for the journal Paediatric Child Health.


"If babies always turn their heads to the same side, the skull may flatten. This is known as a ‘flat head’. The medical term for this is positional plagiocephaly."

It is recommended by health agencies to place babies on their backs to sleep, as research shows this helps to reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). However, it is still easy to help prevent children from developing flat heads by ensuring they sleep on different sides. 

Giving them supervised "tummy time" – placing them on their tummy for an age-appropriate amount of time – will help too, at the same time aiding their development. Moving the child between positions – seating them in a chair, on a bed, etc – as well as placing mobiles above their cots to encourage movement are other ways you can help prevent a flat head. 

As distressing as the condition looks, it is not too serious for the child's health.

Small bits of flattening tend to resolve on their own, and while more serious flattening may be permanent it will not affect their brain development, according to the Canadian Paediatric Society. More serious cases may be treated with "helmet therapy", which encourages the skull to develop normally using pressure.

All “explainer” articles are confirmed by fact checkers to be correct at time of publishing. Text, images, and links may be edited, removed, or added to at a later date to keep information current.  

The content of this article is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of qualified health providers with questions you may have regarding medical conditions.   


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