The “Back to Sleep” campaign launched in 1992 has resulted in a dramatic decrease
in cases of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), reducing SIDS deaths by nearly
50%. This is an amazing statistic, but unfortunately there is another scary statistic
that is related to putting babies on their backs to sleep. Although it is a much less
serious condition, it is estimated that anywhere from 1/3 to ½ of all babies who
sleep on their backs are developing flat spots on the head, or “flat head syndrome”.
What is flat head syndrome?
Flat head syndrome is a term used for a number of different medical conditions
which cause head flattening. By far the most common are positional plagiocephaly
and brachycephaly. “Positional” means that they are caused by the position of
the baby, basically by consistent or frequent pressure on a baby’s head. This can
happen either in the womb or after birth, and frequently happens because babies
are spending so many hours a day on their backs. Plagiocephaly is a flattening on
one side of the back of the head, and brachycephaly is more uniform flattening
across the entire back of the head.
These conditions can be very mild, or more severe. Generally considered cosmetic,
if they are more severe they can cause disfiguration of the facial features and even
the shifting forward of an ear on the affected side. Even milder cases can cause
visible head flattening that may or may not improve as the baby gets older.
If you notice your baby’s head flattening, it is so important to get an accurate
diagnosis from a qualified medical professional, because there are more serious
conditions such as craniosynostosis (premature closing of the skull plates) that need
to be ruled out.
What can you do to prevent flat head syndrome?
There are a few things you can do to prevent flat spots on your baby’s head. One of
the most important is giving your baby a lot of tummy time. This is also important
for your baby’s development. Start very early, even as soon as your baby is born,
and if your baby is fussy or doesn’t like it, just keep the sessions very short. You can
also let your baby rest on their belly on your chest to get used to the position.
Babywearing is another wonderful thing you can do to keep the pressure off the
back of your baby’s head. The use of slings and carriers is so much better than
letting your baby rest in a bouncer or swing because not only does it give you
quality bonding time with your infant, but it also prevents head flattening. There
are so many benefits! In general you want to avoid placing your baby on the back
unless they are sleeping.
Breastfeeding also helps prevent flat heads because you are not putting pressure on
the same area of the baby’s head while feeding since you alternate sides. Be sure if
you are feeding bottles to alternate the way you hold your baby each time you feed.
You might also like: