Sleeping on back can make infant head flat

Putting the baby to sleep on their heads significantly reduces the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), but the practice increases their risk of developing plagiocephaly, a condition marked by flattened heads, researchers say.

According to the findings of a new study, nearly half of the newborns develop flattened heads by the time they are two-month old because of sleeping face up.

Plagiocephaly is a flat head syndrome that is characterized by a flat spot on the back of the head. The condition is usually caused by remaining static in a supine position for too long.

The study
For the purpose of the study, researchers at the Canadian Mount Royal University looked at 440 healthy infants. All subjects were born full term i.e. after 37 weeks of pregnancy.

On two-month follow-up, the occurrence of positional plagiocephaly, or flat spots on heads, was significantly prevalent. Nearly 47 percent of the newborns had developed flat spots on their heads, researchers highlighted.

Of all infants with the condition, 63 percent had developed flatness on their right side.
Furthermore, almost 78 percent children with positional plagiocephaly developed mild developmental delays, but these delays usually disappeared by 18 months.

“Since the 1992 recommendation from the American Academy of Pediatrics to have infants sleep on their backs, infant mortality from sudden infant death syndrome has declined dramatically,” the researchers said. “One consequence, however, has been an increase in positional plagiocephaly, or flat spots on infants’ heads.”

“With the Back To Sleep (campaign) and the overuse of car seats, and people not holding their babies like they used to, we’ve sort of rediscovered this problem with infants’ head shapes”, said Dr. Lisa Stellwagen, neonatologist at the University of California.

Generally, the flat spots are harmless and the treatment is simple and painless. Re-positioning the infants while they sleep and encouraging them to alternate their head position frequently can be helpful, researchers recommended.

However, using a wedge pillow or other devices that help keep babies in one position are not recommended. Moreover, the American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that only kids with severe plagiocephaly may need to wear a special orthotic helmet.

The findings of the study are published in the current issue of the journal Paediatrics.