Q. My baby’s head is getting flatter and flatter in the back from sleeping in the recommended “back to sleep” position. How can I change the shape? Is it okay?
A. When a baby is born, the bones of the head are separated. This may make the delivery easier and then allows for the most rapid brain growth of our lives! During the first year, a baby’s head circumference increases four inches. The next four inch change takes fifteen more years.
This also allows the head to change shapes easily. The campaign to put babies to sleep on their backs has lowered the rate of crib death (SIDS) but many parents are concerned because more babies are also developing flattening of the back of the head. This is almost always normal and self-correcting but a small number of babies develop exaggerated flattening which must be corrected by other means.
The first thing to do is to make sure that your baby spends most of his awake time not lying on his back. A foam wedge to tilt your baby off the back of his head and a little more onto his side when he’s sleeping is not recommended by any experts.
A more aggressive (and effective) intervention is getting an evaluation for a band or helmet to correct extreme flattening. One of the more popular tools is called the DOC band and it works by gradually putting pressure on the bones of the head to reshape them.
I have to inject my own opinion into this issue: Babies are much safer sleeping in the same bed with their parents. I know that this runs very much counter to the well-publicized news stories you may have seen in the past year or two. Many childhood experts disagree with the news stories trying to scare you away from the family bed because of increased SIDS. My reading of the medical literature and my 21 years of experience tell me that a cosleeping family is the safest family.