'Back to sleep' may lead to flat spots on babies' heads - DC News FOX 5 DC WTTG

'Back to sleep' may lead to flat spots on babies' heads

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ATLANTA -

If you've had a baby in your house, you know all about the mantra "back to sleep."  For 20 years, doctors have told parents to put newborns on their backs to sleep to lower the risk of sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDS.  The back-to-sleep campaign has cut the number of SIDS deaths by half, but it's also created another problem. 

It turns out some babies may be spending a little too much time on their backs.  Doctors are seeing a big jump in babies who are coming in with flattening on the backs of their heads. 

Maria and Steve Janos came to Children's Healthcare of Atlanta because their baby, Sasha, had what was kind of a strange problem: the shape of her head.  She's their first child, so they followed the nurses' orders by swaddling her and putting her on her back to sleep.  

"And after about two months, we noticed that her head, the left side of her head became flat," said her mom, Maria.  "And she was favoring that side to sleep."

All newborns like Sasha have soft, malleable skulls that help them pass through the birth canal.  Children's orthotist Jessica Corso says all the time Sasha was spending on her back caused her skull to flatten out.  They call that plagiocephaly.  Sometimes, Corso says, the problem starts in the womb because of how the baby is positioned.

"Where the baby is born with tightness in their neck muscles on one side, and so therefore when they're laying down on their, due to the back to sleep program, the back side becomes flat."

The good news is that the flattening wasn't affecting Sasha's brain development, or physical growth.  But if it's not corrected, Corso says it can cause facial abnormalities.  

"Sometimes we have very severe cases where just at a glance, you can see the baby's eye and ear are pulled on one side from the flatness," Corso explained.

To take the pressure off the left side of Sasha's skull, Corso prescribed "tummy time."  Until Sasha was able to roll over on her own and sleep on her belly, she taught her parent show to position her and lift her and hold her in a way that encourages Sasha to use her underdeveloped neck muscles.  
     
"So that was fun, because it's like a game, you know," said Maria.  "You give her a toy, she moves around, she rolls over to it, so it's no problem, we could do that all day long."

The more time Sasha spent on her tummy, the more the flattening began to disappear.  

"For me, I was amazed once she was old enough to roll over and be okay on her, sleep on her tummy, how fast it fixed itself," said Maria.  "I mean, I'm talking two weeks, I saw improvement."

Sasha never had to wear a helmet or a band to mold her head shape, but some babies do.  To prevent skull flattening, parents are advised to try to keep the baby up off of his or her back when the child is a awake.  For that reason, parents should also try to avoid too much time in car seats and carriers. Instead, hold your baby upright, with their head over your shoulder.


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