Laying Babies On Side Or Back Can Cause Flattened Skull
July 8, 2013

Laying Babies On Side Or Back Can Cause Flattened Skull

Brett Smith for - Your Universe Online

For parents, sometimes there's just no way to win.

A new study has found that the practice of laying babies on their side or back to reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) can often cause a flat spot to develop on a child's skull.

According to the recent study of Canadian children, which was published in the journal Pediatrics, 46.6 percent of two- to three-month-old babies may have some type of "positional plagiocephaly," much higher than what was discovered in four previous studies.

By this age, plagiocephaly that may have resulted from the use of forceps during delivery should have been resolved, coauthor Aliyah Mawji, an assistant professor of nursing at Mount Royal University in Canada, told USA Today.

Persistent flat spots "are signs that the baby has not been given enough opportunities for repositioning" that would prevent the deformation, Mawji said.

The Canadian researchers reached their conclusion through data taken at four collection sites in the community. The researchers said their method was much more accurate than previous efforts that tended to focus on a single center or hospital. They added that previous studies have often only looked at newborn infants, who can have the condition after birth and then revert to normal by seven weeks.

The amount of plagiocephaly found in the newest study "indicates that parental education about how to prevent the development of positional plagiocephaly is warranted," the authors wrote.

They added that an untreated condition can cause facial disfigurement with "adverse psychosocial implications," in social situations. It can be treated with special corrective helmets that are designed to be worn after about 6 months of age, but experts suggest they only be used in severe cases. While some devices insinuate that the untreated condition can result in mechanical, or jaw, dysfunction, the corrective headgear is supposed to be used only for cosmetic reasons.

The good news in the latest study is that most of the children who had plagiocephaly only had a mild form. Out of the over 200 infants in the study with the condition, 78 percent were said to have a mild form, 19 percent were moderate and 3 percent severe. Over half of those affected -- 63 percent -- had a flat spot on the right side of the head.

The American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Institutes of Health both emphasized that flat spots on the skull are less serious than SIDS and infants should still be placed on their backs to sleep. The two groups also noted several strategies that could be used to prevent both SIDS and plagiocephaly.

Many experts recommend "tummy time" for infants who are awake and supervised. When a child is being put down for bedtime or a nap, parents should alternate the side that the child lays on from week to week. A crib should also be repositioned so that the child has to watch a favorite window or door from different directions.

Experts also say that children shouldn't spend too much time in a car seat during long trips. They also recommend "cuddle time" with the infant being held upright over one shoulder during the day.