Local News

Repositioning Babies Can Help Avoid Flattening Of Head

Posted June 12, 2002 3:23 a.m. EDT

— Since the

Back to Sleep

campaign started 10 years ago, the number of sudden infant death cases has dropped more than 40 percent. Now, there is a concern that babies are spending too much time on their backs.

Emma Coppedge wears a little helmet almost every hour of the day. The 8-month-old was born with

congenital torticollis

, a condition where one of the muscles on the left side of her neck stays tight all the time. As a result, Emma favors her right side.

Emma spent so much time on her right side that her head began to flatten and her features started to shift. The condition is called positional plagiocephaly.

Dr. Herbert Fuchs specializes in craniofacial disorders at Duke. He said that since babies spend more time on their backs now, their soft heads are starting to flatten.

He said he sees a lot of patients with the condition and cases range from mild to severe. However, he said most cases fix themselves.

"The normal history for this is to get better," he said.

To prevent it from happening, parents should reposition their babies at night so that they do not always face the same way. And avoid long stays in infant seats. Tummy time, placing an awake baby on his or her stomach, also helps.

"Many families come to us and say they hate that. I always tell them yes, they will hate it, but then they will get used to it," Fuchs said.

"We did that for a couple of months, and we didn't see any improvement," said Amy Coppedge, Emma's mother.

The Coppedges decided to try something else -- a custom-fit helmet designed to "reshape" Emma's head.

While the helmets work, most doctors say there is no proof that it speeds up the process.

"There's no controlled study that shows for the mild to moderate cases the outcome is any different using the helmet," Fuchs said.

The Coppedges feel Emma's case is severe enough to try the helmet. They just want to spread the message to parents about the importance of repositioning.

"I think parents need to be aware of what plagiocephaly is and what they can do to prevent it so they don't have to go through all this," Coppedge said.

The helmets are expensive, costing around $3,000, and most are not covered by insurance.

While plagiocephaly usually does not cause permanent damage, there are skull conditions that do. If you notice a baby's head is flattening or becoming mishaped, talk with his or her pediatrician.