A Canadian study found that almost half of two-month-olds suffer from flat head syndrome. It looked at 440 babies aged between seven and 12 weeks.
The increase in flat head syndrome, or deformational plagiocephaly, has happened because of the 1992 recommendation to place infants on their backs when they sleep to avoid Sudden Death Syndrome – SIDS – advice that remains crucial.
The rate of SIDS has dropped by 50% but the rate of flat head syndrome has risen.
Typically characterised by a flattening of one side of the head, the majority of babies studied had right-sided plagiocephaly.
The bones of newborns are soft and if they lie in the same position all the time, the skull can flatten.
Flat head syndrome is not life threatening, so the advice is still to lay babies on their backs to sleep to reduce the chance of SIDS. But flat head syndrome can be permanent if left untreated.
In severe cases, cranial remoulding orthosis, or ‘baby helmets’, hold the fullest parts of an infant’s skull and encourage growth in flatter areas. The custom-made helmets should be worn for 23 hours per day for several months.
To prevent flat head syndrome from happening, parents are encouraged to alternate the end of the crib they sleep on and supervised tummy-time when the baby is awake. Parents are also advised to avoid keeping infants in car seats, carriers and bouncers for an extended amount of time.
Kate Chauhan, Head Clinical Orthotist at Steeper Clinic, Leeds, which specialises in treating flat head syndrome, said: “This new study is a fantastic step towards raising awareness of the condition on a global scale and encouraging further research in the field.
“Treatment tends to be more successful when started from a young age, it is paramount that parents are educated about the condition.”
How to avoid flat head syndrome
- Alternate the end of the crib the baby sleeps on
- Give your baby lots of opportunities for tummy time – even if its just for a few minutes at a time
- Limit the time they spend in their car seat
- Alternate the side you hold your baby on
- “Wear” your baby as you walk around the house in a baby carrier