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Back to Sleep Causing Flat Heads: November 10, 2013

Here’s news that might deflate some parents a bit- about half of all two month old babies screened in a new study had flat spots on their head. The research was aimed at assessing how common this problem is.

“We see our patients here at the two month adjusted age visit and when we see it at the visit we tell the parents ‘try to do repositioning at home but when we see you back in four months so the child is around the six month age if there is still a problem we’re going to refer you on for further evaluations,” says Jami Hallman, nurse practitioner with Golisano Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida.

Health experts are noticing a big increase. Jami Hallman works with premature babies at Golisano Children’s Hospital Developmental Follow-up Clinic. The rise in part, correlates with the ‘back to sleep’ initiative- meant to decrease SIDS deaths.

“Yes by now teaching parents to put their children back to sleep, we’re saving kids from having Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, but now we’ve created these flat-headed children,” says Hallman.

This doesn’t have to be a life-long condition. Giving babies supervised tummy time strengthens their neck muscles allowing them to shift their head easier. Experts also warn against keeping an infant too long in the same container - convertible ones that go from car seat to carrier to stroller, don’t encourage movement.

“It needs to be taken care of before the soft spot on the head closes, because once that happens those bones have formed together and there’s really not much we can do. So in the first year of life that’s when we have potential to change it,” says Hallman.

Soft helmets are sometimes used to gently correct head shape when repositioning techniques don’t work.  The takeaway is to let babies sleep on their backs, but encourage them to keep their heads up while they’re awake.