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Nearly Half of Infants Have Flat Spot on Head: Study

But researcher stresses importance of still having babies sleep on their back to prevent SIDS
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In recent years, doctors have been seeing more and more cases of flat spots, which is thought to be related to the Back to Sleep campaign. For the past 20 years, experts have been advising parents to put infants on their backs to sleep, on a flat crib surface, to reduce the risk of SIDS.

The campaign (now called Safe to Sleep) seems to have worked. In the United States, it's credited with a 50 percent drop in SIDS, according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health.

So keep putting your baby on her back to sleep, said Dr. Roya Samuels, a pediatrician at Cohen Children's Medical Center in New Hyde Park, New York.

"Positional plagiocephaly is really a cosmetic issue," Samuels said. "There's no evidence that it affects the brain."

Still, she added, "parents can get concerned." To help reshape a flat spot, Samuels said she tells parents to lay their baby on her back with the head facing right, on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. On the other days, face the head to the left.

If your baby has a flat spot on one side of the head, Samuels said you can also place mobiles or other interesting visuals to the opposite side of the crib. That will encourage your baby to turn her head to the non-flattened side.

When babies are awake, limiting the amount of time their heads are against a flat surface -- as in a swing or "bouncy" seat -- is also a good idea, according to Mawji. "Parents should also place their infant on their stomachs when awake and supervised," she said. "Tummy time helps promote neck strength, arm strength and shoulder girdle strength, which will help the infant reach developmental milestones."

Most of the babies in the current study had mild flat spots, and simple measures are enough to address that. Some infants, though, develop more severe flattening, causing the face to appear misshapen.

In those cases, some doctors prescribe a corrective helmet that can help redirect the growth of the baby's head.

Samuels said the most important thing is for parents to make routine well-child visits, so their baby's overall health and development -- including changes in head shape and size -- can be monitored.

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