New moms are constantly checking to make sure their babies are on pace when it comes to developmental milestones. In the early weeks and months of a baby’s life, head shape can be a concern, but should it be?
If you notice your baby’s head is not perfectly shaped, you may initially freak out a bit but there are plenty of parents that have the same worries. In fact, irregular head shape is more common than in years past, perhaps due to the popular Back to Sleep campaign which was introduced to combat Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
A valid concern?
A mom of a newborn is often hypersensitive to her baby’s every milestone. Whether it’s her first or her fourth, the need to make sure her baby is “on track” developmentally is hard to shake. When a mom sees a less than perfect-shaped head, the red flags may go up quickly. Most of the time, a slightly irregularly-shaped head isn’t a huge concern. “In most cases, some flattening on one side or the other is a normal consequence of supine sleeping, but there is also a rare condition called craniosynostosis that usually requires surgical repair,” says David Hill, M.D., FAAP, a spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics and author of Dad To Dad: Parenting Like a Pro.
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The Back-to-Sleep effect
The Back-to-Sleep campaign encouraged parents to put their babies to sleep on their backs to prevent SIDS. It was introduced in 1994 and since that time, the number of babies with irregularly-shaped heads has increased. “There’s no doubt that as we as a country began putting babies to sleep on their backs, the incidence of SIDS declined significantly,” says Sherilyn Driscoll, M.D., of Mayo Clinic’s Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation in a recent news release. “Simultaneously, the incidence of positional plagiocephaly, or head shape asymmetry caused by babies’ sleeping position, increased.”
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The good news
The reduction in SIDS cases is good news for parents and the medical community alike and head asymmetry can be corrected. “As babies learn to turn themselves over and move around more between 4 and 6 months of age the condition usually improves, often resolving completely,” says Dr. Hill. Products specifically designed to combat the effects of supine sleeping are readily available for concerned parents. One of them, the Biddy Belly, helps babies develop strength and reduces the tendency for neck muscles to tighten.
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If you’re concerned…
Dr. Hill provides the following recommendations for parents who are concerned about their babies’ head shape:
- Always start by working with your child’s doctor to assess how mild or severe the problem is and to make sure the cause is benign.
- Help turn Baby’s head in the direction she looks less often.
- Keep your baby upright in a Bjorn-type carrier.
- Make sure you keep your child’s scheduled wellness exams when the pediatrician should examine her head and chart its growth on the head circumference curve.