Where does a Baby’s Misshapen Head Come From?
Newborns are so soft and pliable, as their bones have not hardened from flexible cartilage to firm bones yet. Even a newborn’s head is pliable, as the fontanels, or soft spots which close the plates that form the skull, are not yet cemented into place. Of course, their bodies must be able to squeeze through the birth canal, so the perfect design for such a journey is soft and elastic. And yet, a new mother seeing her newborn for the first time may be alarmed by her baby’s head abnormally shaped into a cone or the face flattened. Parents frequently wonder if the baby’s brain is affected or if the baby’s head will stay deformed.
Fortunately, in many cases a baby’s head will resume its normal shape after a short time. Certain abnormal infant head shapes disappear only after the baby can hold their head up and move around more, sometime after three or four months. Although some abnormal head shapes can resolve on their own, some need medical intervention to be corrected. Doctors are tasked with knowing the difference, conducting the appropriate tests to ascertain the underlying cause of an uneven newborn head, and taking proper action if and when it is necessary to address problems and avoid severe complications. Failure to do so may qualify as medical malpractice.
Top Reasons for Abnormal Infant Head Shape
When an infant is lying on their back for too many hours in a day, which is more likely before a baby’s neck and back are strong enough to hold their head up or roll to one side or the other, the back of their head can flatten. Some of the often recommended home therapies for more common skull deformities include placing the baby on their stomach to build up neck strength, so they can move their head and change their head positions on their own. It also relieves the back and sides of the head from the pressure of constantly lying on them.
Childbirth can Cause Misshapen Heads in Newborns
A long labor can also affect how the head comes out after being squeezed and banged against the pelvic or pubic bones for hours. Some infants are born with flattened noses and wide heads from birth trauma. In fact, the specific term for abnormal infant head shape caused by pressure on the head amidst birth is called head molding. Aside from positional and biological reasons, some babies’ heads come out misshapen after birth instruments are used during a long or difficult labor. In certain instances, a doctor may resort to birth assisting tools like forceps or vacuum extractors to speed up delivery when a baby is having trouble delivering, either due to an awkward position or the mother’s exhaustion after laboring and pushing.
A doctor may use forceps, for instance, when a fetus is showing signs of distress, with an abnormal heart rate, to ensure the baby is delivered quickly. Forceps are instruments used to cup the baby’s head and turn it to help place the baby in an optimal position to leave the birth canal. Vacuum extractors attach to the top of the fetus’s head to accomplish the same goal. These instruments can squeeze the baby’s head, leave marks on the face or scalp, and even cause nerve damage if used inexpertly or in hurried circumstances. When a baby must be delivered quickly to save their life, however, birth instruments may be a doctor’s selected alternative to a cesarean section. C-sections are extremely common, however, as many medical professionals prefer surgical intervention to birth assistance devices.
Biological conditions, inherited abnormalities, and genetic syndromes may also cause a baby to have an uneven head.
Common Conditions leading to Abnormal Infant Skull Shapes
Plagiocephaly, a skull deformity, can affect any part of the infant’s head depending on which side of the head they like sleeping on or how much room they had in the womb to avoid awkward head and neck angles. In some cases involving positional plagiocephaly, the way that the baby sleeps is primarily responsible for the flattening of their head on either side of the back or front. Then there are cases of congenital plagiocephaly, the type that a baby is born with, resulting from the abnormal fusion of the sutures in the skull too soon. In these cases, craniosynostosis occurs, wherein the sutures prematurely connect, increasing intracranial pressure and possibly leading to severe complications if not corrected.
Craniosynostosis is more rare among head deformities, occurring when the soft spots between the skull plates fuse too soon. This condition may cause various abnormal head shapes, from a long, conical head or flattened face to a bulging forehead or lopsided face and head. If the head shape does not improve after a trial of therapeutic exercises or a head-molding helmet in less severe cases, surgery may be required. In fact, corrective surgery is the leading treatment recommendation for craniosynostosis.
Since craniosynostosis can cause a baby’s head to be permanently deformed if it is not treated in time, a doctor must diagnose, treat or refer the patient to craniofacial specialists before the damage is done. As the baby’s brain keeps growing, the prematurely fused skull squeezes the brain, causing potential seizures, brain damage, and intellectual delay.
If your pediatrician suspects a congenital deformity such as craniosynostosis, they may want to take x-rays or scans to confirm the seams of the closed plates and come to the diagnosis. They may also do genetic testing to confirm what caused the condition. Craniosynostosis is commonly associated with a host of other genetic and inherited conditions, such Crouzon Syndrome and Pfeiffer Syndrome, both of which require timely diagnosis.
How do Doctors Treat Uneven Head Shapes and Skull Deformities in Babies
The condition or cause of an infant’s abnormally shaped head is generally the primary indication for the right treatment. If your baby’s head appears flat or misshapen, you may talk to your pediatrician about your concerns. You may be advised to wait a few days or weeks for the baby’s head to return to normal. Then there are cases in which an infant is born with plagiocephaly or developed positional plagiocephaly. If your baby has positional plagiocephaly, your doctor may want you to exercise your baby’s neck by having them spend more time on their stomach, do other therapeutic exercises to move the baby’s neck, shoulders, and arms, or place a head shaping helmet on the baby’s head to mold it into a normal shape.
If the cause is craniosynostosis, a combination of a specially designed helmet and surgery may be the recommendation. Surgery is a drastic measure but may be necessary in many cases. Based on the extent of craniosynostosis and other factors such as the child’s age and general state of their health, physicians may first try a less invasive helmet method of reshaping the head. If a helmet does not reshape the head to relieve the pressure where the brain is pressed up against the skull, medical professionals typically recommend surgery before the baby reaches a year old, preferably in the first four months of life when the skull is still malleable.
Negligence and Misshapen Infant Head
A busy doctor who brushes aside a new mother’s worries about the shape of her baby’s head may be negligent if they do not correctly diagnose the source of the condition. If their initial recommendation is to wait and see what happens, they must be diligent to later confirm that the baby’s head is normalizing. Otherwise, a dangerous condition may get worse when a more cautious approach may have yielded a confirmed diagnosis, a quick course of treatment, and an assessment as to whether surgery is required. This should all occur before the baby’s skull has become less malleable and is therefore more difficult to correct.
The thought of surgery may be horrifying for parents. Not only do they fear that their baby may have or end up with brain damage from a birth defect, but then they also fear the outcome of surgery, which can solve some problems and cause others. If a medical doctor makes surgical errors that cause avoidable complications, they may also be deemed negligent by their peers and medical boards that set the standards of acceptable practice.
Common surgical complications include post-surgical infections, allergic reactions to anesthesia, and bleeding. Less common are surgical errors that occur when doctors make stray cuts or damage nerves at or near the surgical site. But prolonging surgery may be worse. Not only may the baby suffer from the increasing pressure inside their skull, they could die, or suffer seizures and permanent brain damage. So, when surgery or other treatment is delayed because of medical errors in diagnosing or treating a serious skull deformation, the consequences could be dire.
Lastly, doctors may be responsible for causing a newborn’s misshapen head if their actions during birth were negligent. Abnormally deformed heads and the serious complications that may come with them can be the result of birth trauma or a medical professional who unskillfully uses birth instruments. When doctors practice medicine in such a way that causes greater injury to those fragile lives in their care, they are liable for the pain, suffering, and economic losses to the patient and their family.
Speak to a New Jersey Lawyer if Your Baby’s Abnormal Head may be Cause for a Lawsuit
Our skilled team of attorneys is prepared to assist you with fully exploring your options if medical providers’ lack of due car may have played a role in your child’s medical outcome. With particular knowledge and experience in the realm of pediatric malpractice and birth injury claims, we will hear your story, review your case free of charge, and guide you based on your child’s unique circumstances. When a misshapen head in your newborn or child is cause for legal action, we will do everything in our power to ensure that you are properly compensated for your child’s injuries due to professional negligence. Call 866-708-8617 to speak with a lawyer about your baby’s case today. Free consultations are available at your convenience.
- When a Baby’s Head is Misshapen: Positional Skull Deformities, American Academy of Pediatrics
- Pediatric Plagiocephaly, Children’s National Hospital
- Craniosynostosis, Johns Hopkins Medicine