You may wonder what your newborn’s head shape has to do with a dental check. Aren’t dental checks all about teeth?
The surprising answer is no. Our understanding of the link between skull formation, development and oral health is growing all the time. Your baby’s head shape may have far more to do with their lifetime dental health than you imagine.
Your newborn’s head
You may notice your newborn’s head doesn’t feel hard like an adult’s. It’s soft and malleable. That’s because a newborn’s skull is not fully formed. There are noticeable spaces – open cranial sutures – that feel soft to the touch. This may seem like a design flaw! But this flexibility in your baby’s skull helps it to move more easily through the birth canal.
Similarly, the newborn jaw bone is a mere shell. At birth, it’s incomplete – and the left and right-hand sides are separate. In the center of the chin is the ‘symphysis’ where fusion occurs at around 6-9 months of age. The jaws are going through crucial growing periods long before your baby’s first teeth erupt at 3-6 months old.
How many bones are in the skull of a baby?
The newborn skull has 2 frontal bones, 2 side (parietal) bones, and 1 back (occipital) bone.
Why do babies’ soft spots ‘sink in’?
In most vaginal births, the baby is born head-first. The journey through the birth canal molds the head into an oblong shape. The malleable skull bones and soft spaces allow the head to change shape.
Over time, the skull bones slowly fuse together. Your child’s skull should be fully formed by around age 3.
A child goes through critical growth periods until around age 10. In the first few months of life, your child shows critical signs of head and neck development that may relate to the experience in the womb.
Do the doctors shape the head of a newborn?
As we’ve seen, the birth itself may shape your child’s head. Just as straightforward vaginal births may help shape a baby’s head in the right way, a traumatic or C-section birth may not.
Difficult births include:
- Premature birth
- Births during which the umbilical cord is caught around the baby’s neck
- Difficult or lengthy labor
- Caesarean section (C-section)
These atypical births can result in an asymmetrical skull and jaw formation, influencing posture and growth during development. Later in life, this in turn may increase your child’s chances of cranial imbalance and the need for braces.
Why do babies get flat heads?
It’s normal for a newborn’s head to look pointy for a few days or weeks after birth. But if a baby develops a lasting flat spot, either on one side or the back of the head, it could be flat head syndrome.
What does plagiocephaly mean? The head is flattened on one side, causing it to look asymmetrical. The ears may be misaligned and the head looks like a parallelogram when seen from above. Sometimes the forehead and face may bulge a little on the flat side.
What does brachycephaly mean? The back of the head is flattened, causing the head to widen, and occasionally the forehead bulges out.
What does torticollis mean? Torticollis refers to a twisted neck. A twisted neck position may be due to:
- Abnormal birth position (including breech position, where legs or buttocks face the birth canal).
- Use of forceps or vacuum devices to deliver a baby during childbirth.
Abnormal birth positions or pressures can put strain on the baby’s sternocleidomastoid muscle (SCM). This large, rope-like muscle runs from the back of the ears down both sides of the neck to the collarbone. Improper birth posture can cause the SCM to tighten. The result? Your baby may not be able to turn their neck properly.
Babies with torticollis will act like most other babies – until they try activities that involve turning. A baby with torticollis might:
- tilt their head in one direction
- look at you over one shoulder instead of turning to follow you with their eyes
- have difficulty breastfeeding on one side (or prefer one breast only)
- work hard to turn toward you and get frustrated when unable to turn their head completely
- have a very tense body
- cry a lot
- seem to struggle for air
- sleep with their head tilted back and to the side
How should a newborn sleep?
If your baby sleeps with their head tilted back and to the side, it may be a sign of spinal imbalance. The reason a child tips their head back is to open the airway. If your baby sleeps in this position, there may be other signs of spinal imbalance.
Other signs of asymmetry include:
- A folded ear
- One eye that is smaller than the other
Dr. Rosalba Courtney is an osteopath specializing in newborn breathing and skeletal posture. She says that flattening of the skull may be seen by a twisted mandible on the same side and flattened ear on other side.
“The cranial strain lesion I’m seeing quite often is called a left side-bending rotation. In this lesion pattern, you will see a relatively flat ear and temporal on the right, while on the left, the ear sticks out more.
The mandible deviates to the left (side of externally rotated temporal bone). The eye orbit size is increased on the right. This seems to be the most common cranial lesion I see these days and others report this too. I believe it could be linked with head position during sleep of babies who have reflux and airway issues. They turn their head to the right and extend the neck to open the airway and improve the reflux.”
A cranial-sacral or cranio-sacral assessment with an experienced practitioner can be helpful in both diagnosing these problems and planning treatment. The practitioner will look at your baby’s posture and check for tension at the base, top of the neck and limbs. Treatment often involves the spinal C1 and C2 joints.
Always consult with your physician before seeking cranial adjustments on newborns.
Worried About Your Baby’s head Shape or Posture?
Make a note of any concerns and your baby’s appearance, posture and behavior, and see your doctor or pediatrician as soon as possible. Always consult your doctor or physician before seeking spinal assessment on a newborn or child.
Have you noticed any of these signs in your newborn? Leave your experiences in the comment section below.
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