Since the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) began recommending that babies sleep on their backs, the number of deaths due to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome or SIDS has been cut in half, according to the CDC.
However, as the number of SIDS deaths have gone down, pediatricians have seen a dramatic increase in babies having flat head syndrome. Babies have soft skulls, which allow the skull to expand so that the brain can grow. If the baby’s head always rests on the same spot, the skull plates can move in a way that leaves a flat spot. About 13% of healthy infants have some form of positional plagiocephaly.
Because babies spend almost all of their time on their back, they are susceptible to some flattening or molding of the head.
The new report, published in the journal Pediatrics on Monday, suggests that pediatricians should advise new parents about how to avoid flat head syndrome when they bring their newborns in for their check-ups. There are simple steps parents can take to prevent flat spots, including:
- Tummy Time Play
Increase “tummy” time, which is supervised time during the day when baby lies on its stomach. A baby should spend at least 30 to 60 minutes a day on it’s belly, to help develop neck and shoulder muscles.
- Adjusting Sleeping Position
Change or adjust the direction your baby lies in the crib every week. Changing it up can help encourage the baby to turn his or her head in different positions to avoid resting in the same position all the time.
- Changing Their Awake Position
Some babies prefer to sleep with their head to one side. If this is the case, try laying them in a different position when they’re awake.
- Minimizing Car Seat Time
Babies who sleep in car seats can also develop an asymmetrical skull shape, especially in the first 6 months of life. Experts suggest babies shouldn’t spend “a prolonged period of time in a car seat (unless they are in a car of course) or bouncy seat.”
Holding the baby upright over one shoulder often during the day is another way to prevent or diminish the development of flat spots.
Flat head syndrome normally correct itself, and most flat spots disappear when a baby starts sitting up on its own.
The AAP and National Institutes of Health caution that even though laying your baby to sleep on its back can lead to a flattened head, parents should not stop placing babies on their backs to sleep. Asymmetry of the skull is a purely cosmetic concern.