Bringing home a new baby is an exciting experience. But no matter how prepared you are, there will be things you may have never thought of that will surprise you. Like, possibly, your newborn baby’s head shape.
No one tells you that your newborn’s head may be shaped a little funny when they first pop out. Or that a few weeks to months down the road, your baby’s noggin may be — well — a little flat in some places.
Don’t worry. Baby’s head shape changes are completely normal. There are several good reasons why babies don’t have perfectly round shaped heads to begin with.
Most baby head shape issues are temporary and go away by themselves. Some babies may need a bit of help to gently mold their head shape.
In rare cases, a serious birth problem can lead to more noticeable changes in head shape. Here’s why it’s important to keep an eye on your baby’s head shape and what to look for.
How long you’re in labor and whether you have a planned a cesarean delivery, more commonly referred to as a C-section, or a vaginal birth can change how your baby’s head looks when they first pop out.
Babies’ heads are designed to be moldable and slightly squishable to help them slide down the birth canal. This makes it easier on baby — and mama — during a vaginal birth.
In children and adults, the skull looks like one big rounded bone, but it’s actually several bones fused together.
In newborns, the skull is still made up of several flat bones that are very loosely joined together or not joined at all. The soft spots on top and near the back of a baby’s head are called fontanelles.
The loose joints and “holes” in a baby’s skull help change the shape of a baby’s head so they don’t get stuck during birth. This is why your baby’s head might look a little “squished” if you’ve had a long labor or if you have a vaginal birth.
If you have a C-section, your baby will likely have a more rounded head. This is because they don’t have to squeeze through a long, narrow exit.
However, sometimes even babies born via a C-section may have slightly squeezed head shapes depending on position or whether you labored before delivery.
Relax — your baby is fine, and their brain is not affected by the weird head shape. Baby head shape changes at birth are temporary. Causes and kinds of head shape changes during birth also include:
- Vacuum birth: Your baby might have a lump on the top of their head if they’re delivered with the help of some suction.
- Forceps: A baby’s head can get a “pinched” look at the sides if your doctor uses forceps (a large pair of tweezers) to help pull them out.
- Conehead: If there’s a lot of pressure inside the birth canal or if you have a long labor, your baby’s head might be shaped like a cone. This is because the squeezing during birth can push the skull bones over each other a bit, making the head look a little pointed.
- Multiple births: If you have twins or other multiples, your babies will have to share digs inside the womb. This can cause some newborns to have flattened areas on the head because they don’t have much real estate to move around.
- Bumps and lumps: Your baby might have a swelling or lump, usually on the top or back of the head right after birth. This might be fluid or blood collected under the scalp. This can happen from getting a bit bumped during birth. Baby’s head lumps will normally go away in a week or two.
Positional head changes
Research shows back sleeping is the safest way for your baby to sleep in their crib.
However, this can lead to temporary changes in a baby’s head shape. You might notice your baby’s head is a bit flat when they’re a month to 2 months old.
This baby head shape issues is so common, it has a name: positional plagiocephaly. Your baby may have a flattened area on the back of the head or one side. It depends on how they prefer to sleep.
A baby can temporarily get a flattened head from:
- back sleeping
- too much time lying in a car seat, stroller, or rocker during the day
- preferring to always sleep with their head turned to one side
- tight neck muscles (muscular torticollis) that make it easier for baby to turn their head to one side only
The loose joints in a baby’s skull normally don’t start to completely close until your little one is about
If this happens before a baby’s brain is fully developed, it can lead to changes in a baby’s head shape.
This serious health problem can cause other complications, including:
- brain damage
Craniosynostosis can lead to different kinds of changes in a baby’s head shape:
- The head grows longer and narrower, which is a birth condition called scaphocephaly.
- The baby may have a flatter forehead on one side, which can also lead to changes in the eyes and face.
- The baby’s head might be wide and short, which is a condition called brachycephaly.
- The baby’s head may be too flat at the back.
- The baby’s head may look triangular — narrow in the front and wider in the back.
Newborns who have strange head shapes from their birth journey normally don’t need any treatment at all. Bumps and swelling go away within 2 weeks as the head bones slide back into place.
If your baby has positional head shape changes, at-home methods may help treat the problem. Try these remedies to help your baby’s head shape even out:
- Put your baby on their back to go to sleep. Once they’re asleep, gently turn their head so that they are lying on a non-flat side and not on the back of their head. Do not use any cushions or clothing to keep your baby’s head in place.
- During the day, hold your baby upright in various positions to give their head a break from always resting against something.
- Put a bright or noisy toy on the side that your baby does not like turning their head toward. This will encourage your baby to spend more time sitting or lying with their head turned in the other direction. You can also tie or Velcro a small toy to one wrist while your baby is supervised to get them to turn their head.
- Give your baby regular tummy time while awake to help strengthen their neck muscles. As your baby learns to lift their head, they also develop a stronger neck. This can help them turn their head more and avoid flattened areas.
Your pediatrician can tell you if they need any other treatment if these steps are not effective or there are other concerns.
You may have seen some babies wearing cute little helmets that make them look like adorable miniature cyclists! The special tiny helmets help to gently mold a baby’s head to make it rounder and symmetrical.
If your baby has a very flat or misshapen head or things haven’t changed after 4 months, they might need to wear their own little helmet temporarily.
First, your pediatrician will make sure your baby does not have signs of craniosynostosis. Sometimes they’ll check on things with an X-ray of your baby’s skull.
A custom medical baby helmet gently pushes against the wider parts of a baby’s head to mold the flatter parts back into shape. Your baby may have to wear it for up to 22 hours a day for about 4 months.
More serious causes of changes in a baby’s head shape may need urgent treatment.
Birth defects like craniosynostosis may need surgery to help relieve the pressure in the skull. In milder cases, a special helmet can help gently reshape a baby’s head.
Take your baby to all their regular check-ups with your pediatrician. Checking a baby’s head size regularly can help your doctor make sure that there are no serious causes of changes in their head shape.
Some changes in a baby’s head shape can mean that there’s too much pressure inside the head. This can be harmful for a baby’s developing brain. Let your doctor know immediately if you notice anything unusual or different about your baby’s head shape, like:
- your baby’s head shape is still misshapen 2 weeks or more after birth
- a bulging or swollen spot on your baby’s head
- a sunken soft spot on your baby’s head
- no soft spot (fontanelle) on your baby’s head
- firm or raised edges on their head
- changes in your baby’s eye shape or positioning
- changes in your baby’s forehead shape
- slow or no growth in your baby’s head size
Changes in baby head shapes are sometimes necessary for a healthy birth. Newborns come with all sorts of funny-shaped heads.
Don’t worry this is very normal. Their heads will round themselves out a week or longer after birth.
Your baby’s head shape may change again once they hit the 1- to 2-month mark. This is also normal and is usually just caused by your baby lying on their back or one side for too long. In most cases a little redirection is all you need to even out your baby’s head shape.
In rare cases, a birth defect can lead to problems in how a baby’s head develops. Make sure you go to all regular check-ups with your pediatrician.
Keeping an eye on your baby’s head shape and growth beginning in the early weeks and months of life is important for your baby’s health.