Since the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) began recommending that babies sleep on their backs, the number of deaths due to Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) has been cut in half. At the same time, however, doctors everywhere have noticed that cases of "positional plagiocephaly," or head flattening, have been on the rise.
Worried that putting your baby "back to sleep" could result in a skull deformity? The AAP is responding to concerns voiced by pediatricians and parents in a report designed to help doctors prevent, diagnose, and manage head flattening.
About 13 percent of healthy infants have some form of positional plagiocephaly, says AAP researchers. But instead of this statistic being cause for panic—or worse, causing parents to back off "back to sleep"—the report aims to reassure parents that most cases of flattened head are harmless and will go away on their own.
To prevent plagiocephaly, the AAP urges pediatricians to counsel new parents about flat head syndrome when they bring their newborns in for their checkups in the first two to four weeks of life. As CNN reports, recommendations for avoiding plagiocephaly include:
- Increased tummy time, with babies spending at least 30 to 60 minutes a day of active time on their bellies.
- Regularly changing the direction your baby lies in the crib. Most babies naturally turn their heads to right when lying down, says researchers, and changing their position from the foot to the head of the crib every week avoids their resting in the same position all the time.
- To encourage babies to naturally turn their heads more, put something interesting on the other side of the crib, like a mobile.
- Avoid prolonged car seat use. Because a car seat requires a baby to stay in one position, this too may lead to problems.
- Cuddle! Once tummy time is over, give Baby a little cuddle time by holding him upright over one shoulder often during the day as another way to encourage healthy skull development.
Should you ever be concerned about flat spots? Only if the flattening worsens by the time baby is 6 months old and the infant has serious flat spots, says researchers. In these cases, the use of head-molding helmets may be considered. However, positioning techniques may still work best. "There is currently no evidence that molding helmets work any better than positioning for infants with mild or moderate skull deformity," the report states. The AAP researchers are also asking doctors to continue to screen for skull deformities at every wellness visit until a child's first birthday.