Preventing Flat Head Syndrome

Because most parents correctly put infants to sleep on their back, flat head syndrome has become a common condition. Here's what you need to know to prevent it.


The "Safe to Sleep" campaign led by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development in collaboration with other organizations has led to a 40 percent drop in sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) rates since 1994. However, a not-so-pretty side effect is a 50-fold increase in the number of babies with flattened heads, or positional plagiocephaly. Here's expert advice on avoiding this condition long-term:


Turn your baby's head. When you put your baby to sleep on his back, alternate which way you turn his head each night until your baby does this on his own, says John Persing, M.D., a craniofacial plastic surgeon at Yale University Medical Center in New Haven, Conn. Start tummy time right away. Place him on his stomach and alternate which side of his head he lies on three or four times a day for at least five minutes. Consider seeing a specialist. If you see a distinct flattening at 3 months old, you can ask his doctor to recommend a specialist. "A specialist can suggest exercises to improve the shape of the baby's head (such as gently turning and holding the head right and left to stretch the neck muscles), or offer reassurance that your baby is fine," Persing says.


Don't panic if you see a small flat spot. A little flattening is normal, and in most cases, an infant's head rounds out by his first birthday. The chance that your baby will develop positional plagiocephaly is only one in 60. Don't your baby to sleep on his stomach. A perfectly round head isn't worth the SIDS risk. Don't overdo time in car seats, bouncers or swings. Devices such as these place pressure on the back of the head. Don't rule out a helmet. If by 6 months these tips have not worked, a specialist might suggest a skull-molding helmet for your baby. But recent research suggests that the gear isn't necessary to treat mild or moderate cases.