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The Rise of the Flat-Headed Baby

Flat head and sids

More babies on their backs since the 90's

A study published online yesterday in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine confirms what most of us have heard about the phenomenon of plagiocephaly or “flat head” in young babies: it’s on the rise.

Between 1999 and 2007, researchers found that cases of plagiocephaly rose an average of 21 percent per year, across all ethnicities and most maternal factors.

The usual suspect: the back-to-sleep campaign, started in 1992 to encourage caretakers to put babies down on their backs only, so as to lower the risk of SIDS.

Has back-to-sleep worked to cut SIDS risk? And should we be concerned about the rise in flat headedness?

It’s commonly recognized that the incidence of SIDS has dropped by 50 percent since the inception of back-to-sleep. And SIDS research typically shows that cases usually occur when multiple risk factors, including tummy sleeping, are involved.

But, surprisingly, the authors of the study don’t necessarily buy that plagiocephaly is truly on the rise — they wonder if doctors and parents have simply become much more aware of the condition and more likely to seek advice and treatments (like the relatively common baby orthotic helmet option).

One risk factor I hadn’t considered is the still-high incidence of premature births in the U.S.: babies who are born before their due date have more malleable heads.

But the researchers see plagiocephaly as a cosmetic concern — a small trade off for the drastic drop in SIDS.

Do you worry about the shape of your little one’s head? Have you sought treatment beyond the usual heavy dose of tummy time?

Image: flickr

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