A campaign began more than twenty years ago to put babies on their back to sleep. In that time the United States has seen a 50 percent decrease in the number of cases of sudden infant death syndrome.
Along with that decrease, however, we have seen almost a 50 percent increase in a condition called positional plagiocephaly. That is, the baby has flat spots on the back or one side of the head.
In most cases yes, the problem can be corrected with physical therapy or other non-invasive measures. However, some babies require more help. And the answer is an orthotic helmet. But doctor Kelli Tapley with Birmingham Pediatric Associates says that's typically the last resort.
"When they're sleeping they should be on their back," said doctor Kelli Tapley.
She says there's undeniable correlation between sleeping positions and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. She also admits babies with flattened heads is common. But she says it's not cause for major health concerns.
"Once they start to roll over and sit up, usually this starts to correct by itself. There are extreme cases as there are with any illness or any condition where they do have to wear helmets. But that's usually pretty uncommon," said Tapley.
Tapley says, of all her patients, she has just one baby who wears a helmet to help shape his head. He'll wear it six months to a year.
"It's more a cosmetic thing quite frankly. Now there are some children who have a flattened head for a completely different reason, and that's called craniosynostis and that's different. Far, far more often we just have children who have flat heads because of positioning," she said.
Tapley says there are ways to keep a baby from having a flat head. Tummy time is one way.
Lakeisha Lewis says her ten month daughter moves around so much she's never been concerned about a flattened head.
"Really she's at a point where she's just doing what she wants. You can put her on her stomach, her back. She's standing up, taking steps, she's almost walking," said Lewis.
But for the less active baby, scheduled tummy time is needed.
"Start with ten minutes a day. That may be difficult if your baby doesn't like it. But that's ok," said Tapley.
Tummy time can also strengthen the baby's neck muscles and shoulder muscles. Pediatrics also recommends avoiding too much time in car seats and carriers.