Don’t be surprised if you see more babies with flat heads these days. Twenty years ago, the American Academy of Pediatrics began urging parents to position infants on their back to sleep to reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome. Infants who sleep on their stomachs are at greater risk for sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDS, for unknown reasons. Although the incidence of SIDS has gone down since babies started sleeping on their backs, flat head in infants, a condition known as plageocephaly, has increased. Doctors refer to this condition as positional plagocephaly since it occurs when a baby lies on its back too much, causing flattening of the back of the head.
Is Positional Plagocephaly in Infants Related to the Way They Sleep?
According to a new study published in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, flat heads in babies may not be related to their sleep position after all. The authors of this study believe babies with flat heads have always been common, but there was less awareness of this condition in the past. One outpatient hospital in Delaware now sees a flat head shape in as many as one in four babies.
Why so many babies with flat heads? Greater awareness may account for some of the increase, but experts believe that a rise in the number of babies born prematurely partially accounts for the greater number of babies with positional plagocephaly. Premature infants have a softer skull, which makes it more malleable and easily molded when it’s compressed in the crib.
Is There a Treatment for Flat Head in Babies?
To reduce the risk of SIDS, babies should still be positioned on their back during sleep, but doctors recommend that parents give babies more closely supervised time on their tummies to relieve some of the constant pressure on the back of their head. There are also special helmets for babies to wear to correct flat heads in babies, although these helmets are quite expensive. Repositioning the head slightly while a baby sleeps but still keeping them on their back is helpful too.
Babies with positional plagiocephaly usually don’t grow into children with a flat head shape. As babies mature, they start to naturally reposition themselves during sleep, which takes some of the pressure off of the back of the head. In most cases, flat head in babies corrects itself after the first year of life. Some babies with stiff neck muscles may require physical therapy. Rarely, a child will need surgical correction.
Plagocephaly in Infants: The Bottom Line?
Flat head in babies is a condition that usually corrects itself after the first year of life, but it’s a good idea to take pressure off the back of the head as much as possible with supervised tummy time and repositioning – but always make sure a baby sleeps on their back when you’re not around. It could save their life.
Eurekalert.org. “Babies With Flat Heads on the Rise”
KidsHealth.org. “Positional Plagiocephaly”