Safe Sleeping May Cause Flat Heads for Babies
"We agree with the AAP that 'Back to Sleep' is beneficial for the prevention of SIDS, but clearly we have seen an increase in positional plagiocephaly," Shin tells WebMD. "Whether the baby needs a helmet or not depends a little bit on how severe the problem is and how old the child is."
Generally, he says, children between three and 15 months of age with positional plagiocephaly -- not craniosynostosis -- benefit from helmets. "Over time, with weekly reshapings, the helmet will mold the child's head into a normal shape, [but] a lot of cases can improve without treatment," Shin says.
"Anytime [parents] see an abnormal shape in the head in the front or back, or the head has an asymmetrical look, they should consult with a pediatrician," he suggests. "Oftentimes, the pediatrician can reassure that it's a mild condition and rule out more serious conditions like craniosynostosis," he says.
Shin also points out that plagiocephaly often occurs with a condition called muscular torticollis, or a shortness of the neck muscle.
"The biggest problem I have seen is the tendency of children to pick a side due to shortened neck muscle, which can result in mild to moderate deformity if untreated," says Ann Marie Flannery, MD, a pediatric neurosurgeon and professor at the Medical College of Georgia in Augusta.
"The alert mother or father should notice if their child has a side tendency and do what they can to get them to change sides. If this is instituted when the baby is six weeks to two months, chances are that they will not have a flat head when they get older," she tells WebMD.
For example, if your child shows signs of torticollis, put their toys to the side they don't usually face, or try things to encourage them to look to the other side, she suggests.
"We have gotten away from using helmets because it is hard to get one that fits well," Flannery says. "There is some use for helmets in more serious cases, but they require a serious commitment, are extremely expensive, and we have no proof that they are better than repositioning."