Is Baby’s Gear to Blame for the Flat Spots on His Head?

Photo: Thinkstock / The Bump
Photo: Thinkstock / The Bump

Earlier this morning, after the first study of its kind, Canadian researchers reported that about half of all 2-month-old babies have flat spots on their heads. Researchers in Canada screened 440 2-month-olds in an effort to access just how commonplace the problem is for infants — and whether the issue is a side effect of birth or whether the problem is due to baby’s environment.

Aliyah Mawji, a registered nurse at the Mount Royal University in Calgary who lead the study, said, “The reason why we want to catch this early is because if we see children with flattened heads, sometimes there are changes in their facial features.” In more recent years, pediatricians and pediatric nurses have noticed a huge jump in the number of babies with positional plagiocephaly (flat spots found on their heads). Most experts say that attribute the increase to the fact that parents put babies to sleep on their backs (which helps reduce SIDS), but Mawji and her colleagues set out to find just whether nature or nurture was to blame for the big spike.

Together with her colleagues, she conducted a survey in four Calgary clinics where parents bring their babies, each in a different type of neighborhood. In total, researchers analyzed 440 babies aged 7 to 12 weeks. They determined that 63 percent had a flat spot on the right side of their heads, which Mawji and her colleagues attributed to the moment of birth. “This is actually due to the birthing process itself,” Mawji says. “The majority of infants come out in such a way that their head is turned to the right.” This is in part because the mother’s pelvic bone and spine don’t move – they’re hard bones – so the more flexible baby ends up squished and twisted.

The remaining “46.6 percent actually had some form of plagiocephaly” not due to birth. The ‘cuplrits’ that the study researchers pinpointed are most to blame are the devices that are designed to hold babies still. So Mawji suggests that parents should try moving their child more often. “Even though it is still important to put your baby to sleep on the back to prevent SIDS, it is important to vary the side of the head that is down,” she says. “If you notice that one night when you put your baby down, the head is to the right, you want to make sure that the next night you are turning the head to the left side. And be mindful of devices or holding positions that put pressure on infant’s head,” which includes car seats and bouncy chairs, she said. From the research, Mawji and her colleagues noticed that parents “aren’t getting the message that they should be doing these things.” Instead, parents and other caregivers should make sure they’re not always holding baby in the same position at feeding times.

“Also,” Mawji noted, “tummy time is important, too.” She suggests that a few minutes on the tummy while changing or playing with baby can help strengthen babies head, neck, arm and belly.

Do you think too much time spent in the same position could be to blame for baby’s flat spots?

Plus, more from The Bump:

When Should Baby Start Tummy Time?

How to Decrease SIDS Risk?

25 Things to Do With Baby