Craniosynostosis is a scary word. It’s long and complicated and sounds very serious. For the few of you that have heard it before referring to your baby, relax. Take a deep breath. It’ll be okay.
The CDC estimates that craniosynostosis affects 4 in every 10, 000 live births making it an uncommon birth defect. Craniosynostosis is when the bones in baby’s skull join together too early. It is a birth defect, meaning your baby was born with the condition. It is nothing you did wrong and you did not hurt your baby. As your baby continues to grow and develop, the skull becomes more misshapen leading your doctor to spot something is wrong. Your baby’s head may be flat in the back or not round-shaped in general. Your baby’s head will only stop growing in the areas in which the skull has joined via sutures (the areas that generally join together when the baby reaches two years). Sometimes, when the skull closes too early, it can lead to a pressure build-up in the brain which is the only cause for concern. In order to check on that, your doctor will most likely take a closer look to eliminate the possibility.
There are four different kinds of Craniosynostosis:
- Sagittal Synostosis- where the baby’s head grows long and narrow. It is the most common kind of craniosynostosis.
- Coronal Synostosis- where the baby’s forehead is flattened in addition to a raised eye socket or not centered nose.
- Lambdoid Synostosis- where the baby’s head is flat in the back. This is the rarest kind of craniosynostosis.
- Metopic Synostosis- where the baby’s head will look triangular, narrow in the front and broad in the back.
The actual causes of craniosynostosis are currently unknown. While some babies can have craniosynostosis because of changes in genes, sometimes, craniosynostosis happens because of a single gene abnormality which can cause a genetic syndrome. Most cases, however, are caused by a combination of environmental factors and genes.
The CDC recently reported findings linking craniosynostosis with maternal thyroid disease and certain medications mothers take while pregnant. Pregnant women with thyroid disease have a higher chance of having an infant with craniosynostosis, compared to women who don’t have thyroid disease. Additionally, women who report using clomiphene citrate (a fertility medication) just before or early in pregnancy are more likely to have a baby with craniosynostosis, compared to women who didn’t take this medicine.
While there are treatment options for babies with craniosynostosis, many require surgery. The surgery is meant to relieve the pressure on the brain, correct the baby’s head shape and allow the brain to grow properly. The actual timing of the surgery depends on when the baby’s head is fully closed and if the craniosynostosis was caused by a genetic syndrome.
Some babies with mild cases of craniosynostosis do not need surgery and as they grow older hair covers the flat part of the head.
However, it is important to note that each baby born with craniosynostosis is different and will need a different treatment plan. While some babies may be perfectly healthy, other babies can be born with developmental delays or intellectual disabilities because their condition kept the brain from growing.
If you are concerned that your baby has craniosynostosis, check with your healthcare provider and doctor. Babies with craniosynostosis benefit from early intervention and surgery within the first year of life.