Babies' Flat Spots On Heads Affect 47% Of Infants: Is Too Much Time On Back Bad For Newborns? [REPORT]

By Philip Ross on July 8, 2013 12:10 PM EDT

babies flat heads
Babies flat spots, while benign, can cause psychological and social issues later in life if left untreated. A new study says that nearly half of all infants now have flat spots. (Photo: Reuters)

Babies' flat spots, a condition known in medical jargon as positional plagiocephaly, affect almost half of all infants, a new study from Canada suggests. Researchers found that 47 percent of infants who sleep on their backs develop flat spots either on the back or one of the sides of their heads. The condition is caused by the weight of the baby's head against a hard surface, including mattresses and floors. Is too much time on the back bad for newborns?

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Starting in the early 1990s, doctors began recommending parents place their babies on their backs when sleeping in order to prevent Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, or SIDS, a condition that strikes without warning and usually involves the parent or parents discovering their infant dead with no apparent reason why. Kidshealth.org reports that SIDS is the number one cause of death among infants one month to one year old. There are about 2,5000 infant deaths from SIDS every year, and, despite much research being dedicated to the condition, it remains unpredictable.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the crusade to save babies from SIDS has been successful; having infants sleep on their backs has decreased the incidence of SIDS by 50 percent.

But the campaign's unintended consequence has been a rise in babies' flat spots on their heads. It's caused by the weight of their heads being against a firm surface for extended periods of time. One researcher told USA Today that babies' flat spots are signs that the infant "has not been given enough opportunities for repositioning."

The study, released online today by the American Academy of Pediatrics and published in the medical journal Pediatrics, looked at the incidence of flat spots in newborn babies. Of the 404 infants observed, 205 had some kind of flat spot on their heads. The babies ranged in age from 7 to 12 weeks.

While babies' flat spots might alarm some parents, the American Academy of Pediatrics says that the condition is generally benign and can be reversed without surgical intervention. In order to counteract the babies' flat spots epidemic, doctors say simply repositioning the baby onto his stomach can take the pressure off the back of the head and let the flat spots fill out again. Some infants, however, might require the use of the corrective helmets that can reshape the babies' flat spots.

Even though the condition isn't life-threatening, babies' flat heads can have impacts other than physiological. "This can be quite a deforming condition," Dr. Michael Cunningham, director of the Craniofacial Center in Washington, told Seattle Live. "You can have children that have such significant deformity that it really represents a major psycho-social impact for the child as they grow up."

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