Pediatricians have long urged parents to put newborns to sleep on their backs to help prevent sudden infant death syndrome. While the practice undoubtedly has saved lives, it also has increased the numbers of babies with flattened skulls.
Roughly one baby in five under the age of 6 months develops a skull deformation caused by lying in a supine position. Now a study has found that a common remedy for the problem, an expensive custom-made helmet worn by infants, in most cases produces no more improvement in skull shape than doing nothing at all.
“This is a problem we created,” said Dr. Proctor, of Boston Children’s Hospital. “All parents are told is sleep the child on their back. They aren’t told about flat heads and how to prevent it.”
Some pediatricians and specialists advise parents to try repositioning an infant’s head before considering a helmet.
Repositioning entails alternating to which side the infant’s head turns once they are asleep on the back. That way, pressure isn’t always squarely on the back of the head.
Repositioning isn’t as feasible for infants with tight neck muscles, known as torticollis. They may benefit from physical therapy, said Dr. Chad A. Perlyn, craniofacial and pediatric plastic surgeon at Miami Children’s Hospital.
In addition to repositioning, he advises parents to try more tummy time and to limit time spent in car seats. Use a baby carrier, he added, because “when the baby is awake, there’s no deforming force on the skull.”