A new study links flat spots on infants' heads to sleep positioning.(Photo: Tatjana Alvegard, Getty Images)
WASHINGTON (WUSA/CBS) -- To prevent SIDS, doctors have been telling new parents to always put babies to sleep on their backs. But because newborns have soft skulls, about 47% are developing flat spots on their heads, likely as a result of sleep position.
A study published in the journal Pediatrics followed 440 infants between 7 to 12 weeks of age, at four clinics in Canada. In the study 204 infants presented signs of flattened head syndrome, also known as positional plagiocephaly.
Based on these findings, researchers estimate the rate of the condition at 46.6%; a percentage much higher than four previous estimates which put the rate of flat head syndrome between 3.1% and 16%.
Babies were examined from July to September 2010 using a tool developed by Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center plastic surgeon Louis Argenta, MD. The children's foreheads, faces, and skulls were inspected from multiple angles, while also looking for any types of abnormalities.
Among the infants with abnormal skull shapes, 78.3% showed just mild signs of skull flattening. The American Academy of Pediatrics in 1992 suggested the back-sleeping position as a way to reduce a child's risk for sudden infant death syndrome. And, in fact, SIDS deaths have been reduced by half since the recommendations were made.
To prevent the condition, American Academy of Neurological Surgeons recommends placing babies to sleep on their backs, changing the direction they face and changing the location of the baby's crib, so they can look in different directions outside the window. Give the child "cuddle time" when they are awake, and make sure kids have lots of supervised playtime on their stomachs so they aren't always on their backs. Avoid keeping them in car seats, carriers and bouncers for expended period of time, the researchers suggested.
In special cases, children may have to wear a special helmet or band for most of the day if the condition is still moderate to severe after five months of age, the AANS said. Therapy can last from two to six months.