The good news is that more parents are placing their babies are their back to sleep therefore reducing the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). The risk of SIDS is much higher for babies who sleep on their side or stomach. These positions can put your baby’s face directly into the mattress or sleeping area causing them to suffocate.
One side effect from following this important habit for baby’s safety, is that the number of babies with what’s known as "flat head" syndrome has increased.
One controversial treatment for treating flat head syndrome has been for the baby to wear a specially constructed helmet. These helmets are typically expensive.
A new study has looked at whether the helmets are actually effective and determined that they are about as good as letting the baby’s head naturally reshape.
Researchers in the Netherlands looked at 84 babies who had moderate to severe flattening of the head. Starting when they were 6 months old, half of the babies wore a custom-made, rigid, closely fitting helmet for 23 hours a day over six months. The others received no treatment.
By the time the children were 2 years old, there was no significant difference in the degree of improvement in head shape between the two groups, nor in the number of them who made a full recovery to normal head shape -- 25.6 percent of those who wore helmets and 22.5 percent of those who did not, according to a journal news release.
Babies who wore the helmets also experienced side effects such as skin irritation (96%), an unpleasant smell (76%) and pain (33%). Cuddling with the baby was noted as being more difficult as well.
When the children reached 2 years of age, parents in both groups reported that they were generally satisfied with the shape of their child's head. Among parents whose babies wore helmets, the average satisfaction score was 4.6 out of 5, and among those whose babies had not received the treatment the score was 4.4 out of 5, the study found.
"Based on the effectiveness of helmet therapy, and the high prevalence of side effects and high costs, we discourage the use of a helmet as a standard treatment for healthy infants with moderate to severe skull deformation," concluded researcher Renske van Wijk, at the University of Twente, in Enschede, and colleagues.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says that the majority of flat head syndrome cases can be treated with physical therapy and other noninvasive measures.
The study was published in the online edition of BMJ.
If your baby’s head has become misshapen from lying on his or her back, talk with your family doctor or pediatrician about what therapies might be helpful as your little grows out of the infant stage.
It’s still very important to make sure your infant sleeps on his or her back.