"Tummy Time" is important in the prevention
of positional plagiocephaly. Photo by Jessica McMaken
Children with severe head flattening caused by lying on their backs have a higher-than-normal rate of ear infections, according to a study published in the September issue of the Journal of Craniofacial Surgery.
The Back to Sleep Campaign has been very successful at reducing the SIDS rate, but there have been a couple of unforeseen outcomes. First, children began to meet milestones later because they were not developing the head control and trunk strength that comes from spending time on their tummies. To remedy this, pediatricians began to prescribe "tummy time" to ensure that babies were getting the "exercise" they need.
Another side effect of all the time spent on their backs is the development of "positional plagiocephaly" or head flattening. It is generally more of a cosmetic concern than a medical one and positional plagiocephaly does not interfere with brain development.
This new study linking positional plagiocephaly to ear infections does raise some concerns for parents. Though ear infections are typically easily treated, they are painful for young children. Furthermore, recurrent and persistent ear infections in infancy can interfere with speech development because a child's hearing is compromised while the ear is infected.
To prevent and treat plagiocephaly, experts recommend changing the position of a child's head while he is sleeping so that he is not always lying on the same side. Also, limiting the amount of time a child spends on his back while awake can prevent head flattening. Babywearing is great for this as it keeps the child upright and engaged with the world rather than lying on his back.