6 Painless Exercises You Can Do With Baby to Prevent This Scary Condition

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By Micky Marie Morrison, PT, ICPFE, Contributing Writer
Updated May 1, 2017
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Image: Tara Moore / Getty Images

As a new mama, you definitely need to know about Flathead Syndrome. It sounds dreadful, but flathead syndrome is not a genetic abnormality, it is a direct result of poor positioning and is completely preventable. Unfortunately, many moms are unaware until their baby actually develops the condition.

As a physical therapist, I have seen many babies over the years affected by the condition that encompasses torticollis and plagiocephaly. Torticollis is a shortening of the neck muscles on one side, causing limited neck mobility and a constant side-ward tilt position of the head. Plagiocephaly is a deformation of the skull itself, causing a flattening of the head on one side or on the back side of the head.

Increasing awareness is key though, as incidence of Flathead Syndrome is on the rise. A recent Canadian study of 440 healthy babies ages 7 to 12 weeks showed that a whopping 47 percent had some form of plagiocephaly.

“This most recent study further validates the increasing incidence rate of Flathead Syndrome and the need for greater parent education about prevention,” said Dr. Jane Scott, a board-certified pediatrician and neonatologist who practices in Colorado. “By incorporating some simple repositioning strategies, parents can help prevent development of plagiocephaly.”

In her nearly 30 years as a practicing physician, Dr. Scott reports having noticed a steady increase in the incidence of Flathead syndrome since physician recommendations changed to avoid positioning babies on their bellies for sleeping in order to reduce the risk of SIDS over 20 years ago. According to Dr. Scott, more than a million babies each year will be diagnosed with Flathead Syndrome in the US alone. This number has increased over 600 percent since 1992, and affects nearly 48 percent of all babies 0-6 months old.  This is largely a consequence of the combination of lifestyle changes in families and because babies now sleep on their backs. If not corrected in early infancy, expensive and unpleasant treatment options can sometimes follow.

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Some whats you can help prevent flathead syndrome?

1. Correct Positioning. It’s imperative to reposition your baby’s head every 2-3 hours while they’re awake. Encourage baby to turn their head in the opposite direction from the preferred side.

2. Feeding**.** When baby’s eating, alternate the arm in which the infant is held for both the bottle and breastfeeding.

3. Diaper Changes. Make sure you’re moving around, mama! One easy way to do that is to stand on the opposite side of the changing table each time to encourage baby to turn their head to a different side in order to see you.

4. Sleeping*_. *_Change up your routine. Place baby’s head at opposite ends of the crib on alternate nights. Use a positioning aid during supervised sleep time throughout the day. A positioning aid can be just a rolled up cloth diaper, a Tortle, or other devices designed specifically for that purpose.

5. Tummy Time**.** The more time baby can spend playing with supervision on their tummy, the better. Start tummy time early to get baby used to it and play with your baby in that position to make it more enjoyable.

6. Travel. Make sure baby is wearing a positioning aid while riding in car seats and strollers, and switch the side of the support roll from time to time.

Did you move around a lot with baby to help stretch and build their muscles?

Please note: The Bump and the materials and information it contains are not intended to, and do not constitute, medical or other health advice or diagnosis and should not be used as such. You should always consult with a qualified physician or health professional about your specific circumstances.

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