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Half of Babies Have Flat Spots on Heads

A picture shows Hibat Allah, a newborn baby who was found in a street, sleeping at her new home in the Bustan al-Qasr district of the northern Syrian city of Aleppo on March 26, 2013. A newborn baby abandoned on the street in the battleground Syrian city of Aleppo has been named "Gift from God" by the family who adopted her even at the cost of an extra mouth to feed. AFP PHOTO/BULENT KILIC        (Photo credit should read BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images)
Photograph by AFP/Getty Images

Here’s proof parents can’t win: For years, it's been hammered into parents that they should put their babies to bed on their backs. This effort was hailed as a lifesaver, and linked to a 50 percent decrease in infant mortality from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). However, this good news does come with some bad. Since babies’ skull plates aren’t fully grown, their heads have “soft spots.” The result: positional plagiocephaly, a condition where an infant’s head becomes flat or otherwise oddly shaped.

According to a new study of 440 infants, 47 percent of babies ages 7 to 12 weeks had this condition. If flat spots exist on the back of the head, they’re “signs that the baby has not been given enough opportunities for repositioning” to prevent pressure on the flat areas and gradually correct the head shape, says lead study author Aliyah Mawji, an assistant professor of nursing at Mount Royal University in Alberta, Canada.

Yes, of course, flat spots are far preferable to SIDS in the grand scheme of things. Still, though, head shape is kind of important. So what do you do? For one, experts recommend more “tummy time” when the infant is awake, and in the presence of a parent. This not only keeps flat spots from forming but helps develop strong neck and shoulder muscles (hello, crawling). Parents can also change the direction their baby lies in the crib or change the location of the crib every week or so, since this will encourage babies to turn their heads in various directions to, say, see the door.

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