Baby heads are soft, which means that if they are in the same position over and over again — such as in their cribs or strapped into baby gear — flat spots can begin to form. Experts share what parents can do to help prevent them, right from birth.
A baby’s soft head means that she can develop flat spots. What can you do to help prevent them from forming?
Back to sleep
The increase in flat spots on babies’ heads can be traced to the Safe to Sleep (formerly Back to Sleep) public campaign that urges moms and dads to put their babies on their backs to sleep, instead of on their tummies or sides. Starting in 1994, the campaign aimed to reduce the number of babies who pass away due to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) — and it’s been successful. The Safe to Sleep campaign reports that there has been a 50 percent decrease in SIDS rates since implementation of the program.
However, the back-to-sleep position has a side effect in some babies. Since babies are placed to sleep on their backs, they often find one position (or direction) more comfortable than the other, and as their heads are large and their necks aren’t strong enough to move them, they often settle in the same place for slumber. As a baby’s skull is malleable, over time they can — and will — flatten on the preferred side.
Avoid excessive baby gear
Also, one must consider the preponderance of baby gear that is available to the modern parent. There are car seats, strollers, bouncy seats, baby swings and more — and it’s all super cute and helps fill out that baby registry nicely.
Car seats, of course, are a necessity if you’re driving your infant around, but the amount of time he is using it is up to the parents.
As far as the other devices go, they can be overused. Parents can be tempted to let their baby sit in a device, easily entertained, for hours, which can lead to — or worsen — flat spots on the skull. And even car seats can become a problem if the baby is always in one. After all, many are now designed to go from the home to the car and then be clipped into a stroller, which makes it all too convenient to keep the baby buckled in.
Dr. Anne Zachry, a pediatric occupational therapist who specializes in infant development, is the author of the brand new book Retro Baby: Cut Back on all the Gear and Boost Your Baby’s Development with Over 100 Time-Tested Activities. “Occipital plagiocephaly, also known as flat head syndrome, has increased by 50 to 60 percent in recent years,” she explained. “This is happening because babies are now sleeping on their backs to prevent SIDS and they are less tolerant to spending time on their tummies.”
Since back-sleeping babes can resist tummy time, you should try a little every day. Put your baby down on a clean blanket, and lie down across from her yourself and encourage her from the same position. Don’t let your little one cry for extended periods, but if you try it each day, she may become accustomed to it and find it tolerable or even entertaining.
Tummy time alternatives
For those babies who absolutely don’t tolerate tummy time, there are other ways to achieve the same results. “One great option is placing your baby tummy down across your lap while in a seated position,” recommends Dr. Zachry. “Keep your little one entertained by holding a rattle in front of her and shaking it, or provide some movement by slowly raising and lowering your legs.”
Babywearing is another great activity to help keep a baby out of gear and close to a parent. Instead of popping the car seat on the stroller when you go to a mall, wear her in a quality baby carrier. You can also wear her around your house instead of relying on the baby swing to keep her happy. She will benefit from comfort and warmth and you will likely have more peace of mind that you’re helping her retain the natural and beautiful shape of her head.
Treatment is available for plagiocephaly — and some children are more prone to it than others — but if you can help her stay out of equipment and on the floor or in a parent’s arms during the day, you’re giving her a better chance to not develop flat spots on her head.