My baby has a 'funny shaped' head

Are you worried about your baby's head shape? You may have noticed that the back or side of their head appears flattened. This is becoming more common. It affects around 1 in 2 babies under the age of 1 year to some extent. It is common because baby's skull bones are soft and can change shape easily.

There are 2 main types of flat head syndrome:

  • Plagiocephaly is when the head is flat on one side
  • Brachycephaly is when the back of the head is flat

Your baby will have no symptoms. It is harmless and does not affect brain development. In most cases their head shape will improve on its own over time. By the time your baby is 1 or 2 years old, any flattening should be barely noticeable.

Very occasionally, a flat head can be caused by the skull plates in your child's head joining together too early. The medical name for this is craniosynostosis. This requires a specialist doctor to review and manage.

Babies skull bones are soft and are not tightly joined together. This means that their shape can be easily changed by pressure on the side or on the back of their head. It may have happened when your baby was still developing in the womb. More commonly, flattening happens after your baby is born. 

Causes of a flat head:

  • Pressure on your baby's head while they are still developing in the womb
  • Premature babies have softer heads 
  • Tight neck muscles can stop a baby turning their head equally in both directions, putting one side of their head under more pressure.​​
  • Babies should always sleep on their backs as this reduces the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Young babies spend much of their time asleep lying on their backs in their cot, when being carried or while in car seats.​​​ This can put repeated pressure on the same part of the head affecting its shape. 

It is important to put your baby to sleep on their back. Reducing sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) is more important than developing a flat head.


Your baby's head shape should start to improve as they grow, move around more and spend less time directly on their back. You can help your baby's head shape improve naturally with the following tips:

  • Tummy time when your baby is alert, awake and playing. Make sure you are there to keep an eye on them.
  • Encourage them to turn their head by talking or showing them toys from one side.  Change the position of toys, mobiles or lights. This encourages them to turn their head onto the non-flattened side.
  • Change feeding or carrying positions. Alternate the side you hold your baby on when you feed or carry them. Switch them between sloping chairs, slings and flat surfaces to avoid constant pressure on one side of the head. Try to keep time in their car seat or pram to a minimum. Try using a baby carrier or sling instead. 
  • Adjust head position during sleep. Alternate your baby's head position between left and right when they are sleeping on their back. If they are sharing a room with you then alternating which side of the room you place their cot may help to encourage them to turn their head the other way.
  • Physiotherapy may help if they have tight neck muscles. If you notice that your baby has difficulty turning their head in both directions speak to your GP. 

ALWAYS REMEMBER that the safest sleeping position for your baby is on their back

Yes it will improve!

Your baby's head shape may not return entirely to normal but by the time they are 1 to 2 years old it should be hardly noticeable. 

Even severe cases improve over time. Some flattening may remain but as their hair grows it should not be obvious. It is rare for a child to experience any problems or teasing by school age. 

Some parents consider helmets or headbands for their baby. This remains controversial and in general they are not recommended. Visit the NHS website for more information on helmets and headbands. 

Contact your GP if:

  • Their head shape seems unusual e.g. is bulging out on one side 
  • Your baby has difficulty turning their head or has a strong preference for turning their head to only one side
  • You are worried about the size of your baby's head, for example it seems too large or too small
  • You are worried about your baby's development
  • Their forehead seems pointy or triangular
  • The soft spot on the top of their head has disappeared before they turn 1 year old
  • You have tried the tips above and their head shape continues to get worse

Speak to your health visitor or GP if you are worried. They can examine your baby's head and  will be able to give advice. Your GP may refer your baby to a physiotherapist if they have tight neck muscles. Rarely, if they suspect that the skull bones have fused too early then a referral to a paediatric specialist is needed.

You can also find some more detailed information on the NHS website.