Baby back-sleeping and positional plagiocephaly, a.k.a. “the flat head thing.” On Babble’s Parental Advisory.

I have a two-week-old baby. I’ve been putting him down to sleep on his back, but I’m worried he will get a flat head. My sister told me her friend’s baby had to wear a helmet because of this! My mom suggests I put him on his stomach at least some of the time, but I’m nervous about that. Is the flat head thing really something to worry about? – Well Rounded

Dear Well Rounded,

Ahhh, the golden days of tummy sleeping! It does seem like it would solve a world of problems – and many representatives of the previous generation enjoy reminding us of this fact. But, as I’m sure you know if you’ve ever even glanced at the PSAs on the pediatrician bulletin board, it’s not exactly recommended in the current age. It’s also not necessary for the prevention of the “flat head thing,” which is formally known as positional plagiocephaly. It’s called “positional” because it happens if the baby is in one position most of the time. It can happen in the womb (usually with multiples) or later, if the baby’s head is frequently put down the same way (always on one side, facing up, etc.) when he’s lying down or sitting in a seat. You can prevent it (and often reverse it within the first six months) by alternating the position of your baby’s head when he’s sleeping and by giving the baby plenty of time on his stomach or upright when he’s awake.

Incidences of positional plagiocephaly shot up coinciding with the American Association of Pediatrics “Back to Sleep” campaign. The campaign, launched in 1992, continues to recommend back sleeping for the prevention of SIDS. Despite the rise in flattened heads, they are not common (in 1994 it affected 33 in 10,000 babies) and usually easily corrected, especially if addressed early on. If you notice a flattening, talk to your pediatrician. It’s true that corrective helmets or headbands are sometimes used, but it’s pretty rare. Most cases are mild and with a little moving around can be corrected within a year.

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Article Posted 9 years Ago

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