I am part of a great networking group in south London called Pure Pregnancy. We are all women that work with pregnant mamas and parents in a different way but all with the same passion: from therapists, midwives, doulas and yoga teacher, to postnatal and baby feeding experts. We meet regularly and talk about what we do and how we help people.
One of the therapists I met there is Julia Finlay, a lovely osteopath who specialises in babies and pregnancy. She kindly talked to me about her job and shared some tips on how avoiding flat head in babies.
“As a paediatric osteopath, I often get asked for advice about babies’ head shape. This has become common since the “Back to Sleep” campaign in the early 1990s. While the advice is sound as far as SIDs is concerned, some babies seem to quickly settle into very fixed sleeping patterns that then tip them into distorted head shapes because the bones are so soft. In my experience, this may be more likely to occur with babies who are settled, good sleepers. Other predisposing factors can be tight necks which may relate to the labour or intra-uterine lie.
Parents may be slow to notice – we all look at faces before we worry about head shape don’t we? Often they suddenly realise when they see a photo or a relative says something.
While it may improve (or at least stop getting worse) once your baby begins to sit up, it’s important to manage it actively early on. The longer it’s left the harder it is to treat.”
Here are a few tips:
1. Give your baby lots of tummy time (supervised of course) from birth. 2-3 times per day, short and sweet – a few minutes at a time. Some babies love it and some hate it but it’s a good idea for everyone. If your baby is refluxy then try putting them over a cushion or rolled-up towel to help lift their shoulders and head. The added benefit of this is that it helps early motor skill development and head control.
2. If they have a preferred side to look, put all the interesting things in life – including you! – on the other side to encourage them to turn the other way. This applies to toys, changing mats, looking out of their cots and so on.
3. In the pram and cot – get a hollow pillow to support their head straight or stop them from lying on the flat side by strategic use of a rolled-up muslin or towel.
4. The sooner you get going with careful positioning and management, the less of a problem you will have. The bones of the cranium ossify towards the end of the first year. Many parents find that once they start being careful the head shape quickly responds as it is growing so rapidly.
5. If they seem uncomfortable turning or feeding on one side then perhaps seek some manual therapy such as osteopathic treatment.
Julia has an MSc in cranial and paediatric osteopathy from the Osteopathic Centre for Children and is registered with the General Osteopathic Council. She has volunteered weekly at the Osteopathic Centre for Children since qualifying in 2009.