Tips on reducing the risk of flat head syndrome (plagiocephaly)

Some babies can be born with a flatness or asymmetry to their head shape, but most often it is something that gradually develops over the first couple of months after birth.  It seems to be more common these days since the very successful ‘Back to Sleep’ campaign that recommends all babies sleep on their backs to reduce the risk of SIDS, so what can you do to help reduce the pressure on a newborn’s soft skull?

When a baby’s head is flat off to one side, it is common to find that they also prefer to turn their head to just that one side.  Sometimes, this sort of neck restriction might show itself as  difficulty in breast feeding from one breast.  At home, it’s important to make everything plagiocephalyinteresting be on their least favourite side, so that they are actively encouraged to look that way.  So, this could mean:

  • Turning their Moses basket around in the bedroom, positioning them with lights or a window to attract them and talking to them from their non-favoured side.
  • When the baby is solidly asleep you could try and gently turn their head to rest on the other side.
  • If you’re bottle feeding, vary the position that you feed your baby in, like you would with breastfeeding.
  • Encourage tummy time, numerous brief spells each day, from birth.  This can be lying on your chest, tummy or lap if they really don’t get on well with it on a firm, flat surface.
  • Carrying in an ergonomic (wide-based) sling or carrier is also a great way to help little ones spend less time with weight on the back of their head.
  • There are numerous pillows on the market that are considered safe for reducing the pressure on the skull too.

If your baby seems to be in discomfort or really can’t turn their head to the other side, then it would be worth considering an osteopathic assessment as their range of movement is often quickly restored with gentle treatment to help lengthen out their neck and upper back.

Juliet Hartis – Osteopath    |    07710 995 507    |

Breathing and postural tips for abdominal wall and pelvic floor health.

Some women will find that they manage to lose some or all their extra baby weight relatively easily (yay!), or may have worked very hard to lose it (well done!), and yet they still have a tummy bulge that just won’t shift.  They might then turn to typical abdominal strengthening exercises such as planks and crunches and actually find this bulge worsens.

So, what’s going on?  The problem here is usually abdominal separation, known as diastasis recti (DR).  One of the Maternity Network’s Pilates teachers (Natasha Sahota) has posted previously about DR (, so I won’t go into the details of it again, but instead I’ll discuss a few things you can do daily with how you breathe, sit and stand to reduce unnecessary stress to your abdominal wall and therefore your pelvic floor too.  Your abdominal wall needs to be functioning well for your pelvic floor to be happy and vice versa, so it’s well worth turning these points into new, better habits.

First up – notice how you’re breathing and how you take a deeper breath, which part of your body moves to allow that extra air in?

For some the shoulders raise up, this isn’t ideal as it uses your neck and shoulder muscles excessively and leads them to tighten and fatigue and puts extra stress on the discs in your neck.  Relax those shoulders, let them drop down, away from your ears!

For others, their tummy will noticeably expand with each in breath.  This can be ok for a deep relaxation breathing technique when lying down, but it is not the ideal for every day, up and about breathing, as when your abdomen expands, your abdominal musculature is relaxing and switching off, leaving your lower back structures unprotected.

Right, so how should we breathe?  The ideal way to increase the space available for your breath is to allow your ribs to open out laterally, to the sides.  If you’re not sure how, to first get a selateral-breathingnse of the movement, place your hands on the sides of your lower ribs (you could do this standing, sitting or lying on your back).  When you breathe in, let your lower ribs push your hands apart.  Even better, try using your hands to resist that outward movement of your ribs and you’ll get more feedback of how that feels at your ribs. Once you’ve got an idea of the sensation, take your hands away and let your arms relax (otherwise we’re going back to over using your neck and shoulder muscles!) and continue breathing in to the sides of your rib cage.  That is the best way for your body to move for general, minute-to-minute breathing, sighs and deeper relaxed breaths.

Secondly – we all know that slumping isn’t great for our backs.  But people mostly tend to think about the effect it has on their neck (forward head position, neck scrunched up), shoulders (rounded), upper back (achey) and lower back (feels weak, achey or spasms).  But have you thought about what happens to your pelvic floor when you slump?  Your tailbone becomes tucked sitting-postureforwards underneath you so your pelvic floor muscles effectively shorten in length and so become tight and dysfunctional.  It’s often assumed pelvic floor problems occur when the muscles are slack, but any muscle can be slack and weak or tight and weak.  So, sit on your sitting bones (the clue’s in the name!) not on your coccyx (tail bone) for a happier and healthier pelvic floor.

Finally, who’s been told growing up to ‘tuck your bottom in’ and ‘hold your tummy flat’ when you’re standing?  It probably came from a well-meaning female family member, but it is no good for you!  Tucking your bottom in over uses your hip flexor muscles and when these are too tight, it compresses your lumbar spine.  It also switches off your gluteal muscles, leading to a saggy looking bottom (and a whole host of functional problems for your back and pelvis).  Holding your tummy in probably won’t have led to a lovely set of abs, but more likely means you’ve not been using your ribs and diaphragm properly for breathing, which takes you back to my first point!

While this will mostly be read by pregnant and post-partum women, the breathing and postural advice is entirely relevant to any men (though they’re a bit less prone to the ‘tucking bottom in’ issues) with hernias, low back pain or pelvic floor problems too, so do your menfolk a favour and share the wisdom!

Juliet Hartis – Osteopath    |    07710 995 507    |

Slings and Baby Carriers – AKA Lifesavers

I mentioned at the Birthmatters café how slings/wraps/carriers can be lifesavers if you have an unsettled, refluxy or just a very cuddly baby.  Many parents will find themselves cuddling, rocking, bouncing and dancing with their baby for more hours than they knew existed in a day.  This can all be made easier using a sling as it spreads your baby’s weight across your body, meaning less neck and shoulder tension – even when they’re tiny, keeping this up for long is still exhausting.  It also gives you both hands free to do something else as well (like open the wrapper to that chocolate bar that’s going to get you through til your partner steps up to do the next stint of baby soothing!).

Not all carriers are equal

Carriers that are good for your back and for supporting a baby well need to:

  1. give the baby a wide base of support (ie their legs are supported by fabric right across from one knee to the other knee, not just under their crotch)
  2. have the baby facing in towards your body (otherwise their bodyweight hangs forward off your shoulders and neck rather than being added into your centre of gravity if they are carried high up on you and facing inwards)

For guidelines on how to safely carry a baby in a sling (and a huge amount of further info) see

Finding the right carrier – borrow or hire first

There are many, many types of baby carrier out there so the important thing is to find one that’s right for your family (dad’s love babywearing too, just some need an extra nudge first to give it a go!).  The very best way to do this is to get along to a local Sling Library so you can hire a few different styles to see what suits you.

 Nearby to Maidenhead we have:

Bracknell Sling Library.  All the details of meeting dates, location and hire costs can be found at:

Here are a few words from Clare and Gemma who currently run the library:

“Bracknell Sling meet is a group of local parents who originally joined the Facebook Group “Bracknell Sling Meet & Natural Parenting”. The idea of the group was to get local people together to share their knowledge and try out different kinds of slings before committing to buy anything.

In early 2015 they set up a “Sling Library” where parents could borrow different styles of slings and baby carriers on a short term loan basis to see what suited them and their babies. Loans cost just £6 for a two week hire period, plus a £40 refundable damage deposit.

They have a large range of different kinds of slings including buckled carriers, stretchy wraps, mei tais, woven wraps and ring slings to try and will help you adjust them correctly to ensure the sling your hire is comfortable and safe.”

Thames Valley Sling Babies hold meetings in Hurst and Reading

Henley look to be going to have a library soon too, currently just their Facebook page is up and running

Give babywearing a go, you won’t regret it!  If you or your partner have underlying back problems and you don’t think your body will be able to manage it, please come and see me for a check up.  Good slings are so supportive that a couple of osteopathy sessions to improve how your back is functioning, along with the right sling is likely to make all the difference.

Fevers are not the enemy!

I know myself as a mum that when your little one is ill, you just want to do anything and everything you can to bring them back to their usual chirpy, cheerful self. The thing to know about fevers is that it’s the body doing what it needs to do to fight off and clean out the invading bug.

The body raising its core temperature leads to further white blood cells being produced and increases their activity, these cells are essential in destroying bacteria and viruses and removing the debris.

The NICE guidelines (that GPs etc follow) say that paracetamol or ibuprofen should be used to ease distress in a child that has a fever, they should not be used with the intention of lowering the temperature. So if they’re either not suffering or their discomfort can be managed by other means, keep them well hydrated and a close eye on them, but no need to medicate.

Please discuss this with me or another medical practitioner if you have any questions or concerns.

Harmony Osteopathy – a Holistic Approach to Health


I will be using this blog to share tips and ideas on how to keep (or get back to) a better functioning and more comfortable body.  As my special interests are pregnancy, babies and raising healthy children as naturally as possible, there will be a heavy lean in this direction!

Please get in touch if you have any questions about osteopathy, any tips of your own to share or any gentle debates of points mentioned small 004