Parents are often the first to notice when their otherwise healthy infant slowly begins to develop a lopsided skull. Sometimes the change in head shape can look like a flattened section in the back of the skull, or off to one side if the baby prefers looking toward one direction. The incidence of head shape asymmetries has risen, likely related to the successful Back to Sleep campaign, which has saved countless infant lives since it was introduced in 1994 to prevent sudden infant death syndrome.
"There's no doubt that as we as a country began putting babies to sleep on their backs, the incidence of SIDS declined significantly. Simultaneously, the incidence of plagiocephaly positional, or head shape asymmetry caused by babies' sleeping position, increased," says Sherilyn Driscoll, M.D.,of Mayo Clinic's Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.
While head shape asymmetries tend to be easy to treat, timing is essential. Treatment needs to take place while the skull is still rapidly growing and before the bones of a baby's skull have fused and the soft spots have closed. The optimal time to address head shape asymmetry is as soon as it is notices, and to be seen by a specialist who can ascertain that the shape is due to the baby's sleeping position.
"There are a few less common conditions of greater concern, such as craniosyntosis, that can cause a head shape asymmetry, and those need to be ruled out first," Dr. Driscoll emphasizes.
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