Flat Head Syndrome and Cot Death
This week you no doubt read some of the press coverage on the latest study concerning SIDS - Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.
It was found that sharing a bed with a newborn increases the risk of sudden infant death syndrome fivefold.
In the last 10 years the advice has been to lie our babies on their backs to sleep. Reports suggest this has reduced the number of cot deaths by 40%. However, while we have been sleeping our babies on their backs, another problem has arisen: the increasing prevalence of Flat Head Syndrome, also known as plagiocephaly .
A decade ago, only 5% of babies developed Flat Head Syndrome. Now research conducted at Great Ormond Street has suggested that as many as 50% of babies have a degree of plagiocephaly. Although not all of these babies will continue to have plagiocephaly, some will and this will not go away even in adulthood.
There is not enough education in the area of plagiocephaly. Parents are told they can ignore the problem and that it will go away. This is not always the case. Parents may also be told that Plagiocephaly is just a cosmetic issue. But research indicates that some of these babies have a higher rate of learning difficulties. As the body matures those with plagiocephaly are more likely to develop neck, jaw and ear problems.
Flat heads arise because there is usually a restriction in the baby’s neck. When this goes undiagnosed and the baby lies on the same spot, asymmetry and flattening develops not only through the head but also the face. Babies’ necks become restricted from intrauterine pressure or delivery. This is most common in babies that are twins, breech or have engaged into the pelvis early. It is also more common in first babies, who are boys and are heavier in weight.
As an osteopath who has worked with children for 15 years, I see more and more cases of babies with flat head syndrome. Some babies resolve the problem early as they have been diagnosed early. Others have needed more drastic attention. Older children now come into the practice for neck pain and jaw ache and headaches as a result of plagiocephaly.
Flat head syndrome is a completely preventable problem and parents need to know how to manage and prevent it.
Prevention arises through parenting. Mothers and fathers should regularly lie their babies when they are awake on their tummies for spinal development and to release any restrictions in their necks. Babies should lie this way from birth.
Early diagnosis and releasing the neck is important.
Early signs of problems occurring is that the baby will always sleep to one side and may feed poorly off one breast. Or you may see that the baby has a flat head. Your baby should be able to lie on its tummy with its head rotated fully, flat and relaxed to both sides without lifting up either of its shoulders. If you do find there is a problem, specialised exercises and treatment can be given by an osteopath with expertise in the area. Parents who leave treatment too long will find their baby’s head will get flatter, asymmetry will develop through the face and more treatment will be required.
Osteopathic treatment involves gentle hands-on treatment to the neck, head, face and sometimes the spine and pelvis. If you notice your baby has a flat head give it lots of tummy time and consider assessment by an osteopath. The earlier the baby is seen the less treatment it will need. So although it is fantastic that numbers of Sudden Infant Death have been reduced, do take caution. Avoiding risk can itself elicit problems. And, please remember, tummy time is essential!
Do not be afraid of lying your baby on its tummy if it is awake and you are with them.
By Simone Ross
Simone Ross has practiced osteopathy for 15 years and runs Kane and Ross clinics in Harley Street and Courtfield Gardens, Kensington. She has previously worked in central London hospitals seeing post-natal mothers and newborns and teaches other osteopaths, midwives and doctors about osteopathic treatment. Simone specialises in treating babies and children with conditions such as colic, plagiocephaly, unsettled babies and lactation issues.
She also has four children of her own so is a busy lady!