Does Plagiocephaly Cause Developmental Delays?

Parents always worry about whether their child is developing normally and this will not be helped by studies suggesting that infants with flat head syndrome may suffer developmental delays.   In one American study, researchers found that babies with flattened heads were less advanced in their motor skills such as crawling, rolling and being able to raise themselves from a tummy position.   It has therefore been suggested that plagiocephaly may cause development delays in children.

In my view, not enough studies have been conducted on this and there is another possible explanation.  Babies with positional plagiocephaly have often developed it because of another underlying condition.  A common cause of plagiocephaly is torticollis (tightening of the neck muscles) which can make it difficult for a baby to turn his head.  This often causes the baby to develop a preference for tilting and laying his head to the same side, causing flattening on that side.  Other babies are born with poor muscle tone or abnormally large heads and struggle to lift or move their head on their own.  These factors increase the risk of the baby developing flat head syndrome but also, in themselves, can delay the development of the baby’s motor skills. 

Thus, rather than the plagiocephaly causing developmental delays, it may be that any developmental delays are due to other medical conditions which increased the child's risk of developing plagiocephaly in the first place.  The development of a flat head in a baby could however serve as a useful sign that the child may have other underlying conditions, which may otherwise go unnoticed, as well as an early indication that the child may be at risk of suffering developmental delays as a result of those conditions.

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