Flat spots are found on almost half of 2-month-old babies' heads

Flat spots are found on almost half of 2-month-old babies' heads

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Research out of Calgary, Alberta, Canada finds that close to half of two month old infants have flat spots on their heads. Flathead, also known as positional plagiocephaly, is when a baby’s head molds into an atypical shape. The research was published online in Pediatrics today.

In 1992, the American Academy of Pediatrics released a statement recommending that healthy infants be placed on their backs to sleep. This advice reduces the risk of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) and has saved thousands of babies' lives. With this recommended sleep position, we have noticed an increase in positional plagiocephaly in infants.

Of the 440 infants studied, 205 were found to have some form of flat head. Close to 80% of the babies diagnosed with flat head had mild cases, and the majority were affected on the right side.

How to avoid flat head syndrome

The following recommendations to avoid flat head were published November 28, 2011 in Pediatrics:

1. Pediatricians should talk to new parents about flathead prevention in the first month of life

2. Babies should sleep on their backs, but parents should gently rotate the direction of their infant’s head once he is asleep.

3. When awake, new babies should spend at least 30-60 minutes per day on their tummies. I recommend a few minutes of tummy time after every diaper change. Short frequent sessions are better than one long tearful session.

4. Babies should limit their time in car seats (unless they are a passenger in a car,) and other reclining chairs. I tell my new families to avoid car seat strollers, bouncy seats, and swings. Car seats are designed to keep infants in a fairly fixed position to protect the infant from uncertain impact in a motor vehicle accident. Car seats should be kept in the car.

These recliners allow babies to find what I call a “Position of Comfort.” The baby will often keep his head in a specific direction. This set position can affect the molding of the infant head.

How to combat flat spots

Your doctor will recommend positioning and gentle stretching exercises. If these do not make significant improvements your doctor may consult with a specialist to evaluate your infant. Very rarely a specialist will recommend a helmet.

Positional plagiocephaly is different than craniosynostosis. Craniosynostosis is when a baby has premature closure of the sutures on the skull. This is a medical condition that also results in an atypical skull shape, but craniosynostosis often requires surgical repair. Postioning and stretching exercises will not improve the skull shape in these babies. If your baby has craniosynostosis, your pediatrician will consult with a neurosurgeon for evaluationand treatment.

The researchers acknowledge that more research needs to evaluate how flat spots progress during the first year of life. They would also like for practitioners to learn how to identify flat spots.

If you are concerned that your baby may be developing a flat spot, see your pediatrician. She can discuss positioning, and may even recommend physical therapy. Your baby should continue to sleep on his back to decrease his risk of SIDS.

The advice provided in this blog is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for medical diagnosis, advice or treatment for specific medical conditions


Photo:Flickr/Thom Krug

Opinions expressed by parent contributors are their own.


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