Plagiocephaly and brachycephaly
Plagiocephaly is defined as the oblique deformity of the skull, consisting in the greater development of the anterior part on one side and of the posterior part on the other.
In other words, it relates to a partial flattening of the back of the head which gives a slightly distorted look to the head shape and which can cause a misalignment of the ears and eyes. While it has not been identified as the specific cause of any medical problems in later life, any misalignment of the skull resulting from plagiocephaly may in severe cases contribute to jaw and dental problems and the negative psychological effects of teasing and bullying in the child’s formative years.
Brachycephaly is similar to plagiocephaly, but is indicated by a flatness across the full extent of the back of the head, and occasionally by a corresponding flatness across the forehead.
Both conditions are more prevalent in boys than girls, and are caused by a variety of factors. These include:
Plagiocephaly can be caused by craniosynostosis, which occurs when the cranial sutures ossify prematurely and prevent further growth in the affected area while the skull continues to grow elsewhere. Plagiocephaly caused by craniosynostosis cannot be treated with a helmet, and surgery is the only option for correction.
Recent recommendations for back-sleeping to reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (cot death) are believed to be a major contributor to the flattening of babies’ skulls. With young babies spending most, if not all, of their time either asleep on their backs, in a car seat, being carried in a baby carrier or lying in someone’ s arms, the backs of their heads are under constant external pressure.
It is believed that a lack of amniotic fluid in the womb may also make babies more prone to plagiocephaly, as may the journey through the birth canal and the eventual method of delivery. Breech babies can also become wedged beneath the mother’ s ribs, which may also be a contributory factor.
Premature babies are more prone to plagiocephaly because their skulls are softer and more malleable than full-term babies.
A tightness or shortening of the muscles on one side of the neck, called Congenital Muscular Torticollis, can cause babies to look only in one direction and therefore to sleep with their head in one position. This causes continual external pressure to one side of the back of the head, which can again result in plagiocephaly.
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