Medical professionals have begun to notice an alarming rise in the incidence of a skull deformity in infants called “flat head syndrome.” Plagiocephaly, the medical term for this flattening of the skull, can occur as a result of consistent pressure on a particular spot. It is a cosmetic condition, but one that can be permanent if left untreated. The increase in plagiocephaly is frequently blamed on the fact that babies are now placed on their backs to sleep, a position that has been shown to prevent sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
If a baby’s head is always in the same position, the pressure can deform the skull. However, back-sleeping is not the only factor. Extended periods of time spent in a baby seat can also contribute to this condition, as can long periods in strollers, swings, and other devices that put babies in a back-lying position.
Thomas R. Littlefield, M.S., is affiliated with an Arizona clinic that treats plagiocephaly. In an article in the Journal of Prosthetics and Orthotics, he notes that 28 percent of infants who attend the clinic spend 1.5 to 4 hours daily in car seats or swings, and nearly 15 percent are in them for more than four hours per day. Another 5 percent of infants are allowed to sleep in these devices. Littlefield observes that cranial distortion resulting from overuse of car seats and swings is more severe and complex than in children who develop plagiocephaly from back-lying on a mattress. Consequently, he recommends reducing the time spent in car seats and swings, if possible. (1)
Poor Positioning for Infants
Plagiocephaly is not the only problem associated with heavy use of car seats. According to Dr. Jeanne Ohm, executive coordinator of the International Chiropractic Pediatric Association (http://www.icpa4kids.com), many infants in strollers or car seats constantly tilt their heads to one side or the other. “That’s a good indication that their upper cervical spine is out of alignment,” says Ohm.
Short periods spent in a car seat are fine, but “keeping them in that position where it’s easiest for their head just to fall to the side—that leads to further spinal stress later on in life.” Ohm prefers to see parents carry infants in their arms and use different types of carriers. “Using a variety of carriers supports correct postural development for the child.” (1)
The Benefits of Babywearing
Babywearing is defined as the act of wrapping a baby in cloth around the torso of a parent and it has a long list of benefits. Parents mainly comment that they prefer babywearing to the traditional methods of carting around a baby carrier, diaper bag, purse and many other items. Especially in scenarios involving a great deal of walking, wearing baby is an ergonomic way to keep Mom or Dad’s back feeling strong (vs. carrying the heavy seat around on only one hip or arm) and keeps baby’s head upright, reducing asymmetrical strain on her little neck, reducing the chances of developing plagiocephaly.
I hope you’ve found this article helpful. If you enjoyed it, you may want to check out the first post in this article series: Car Seat Struggles + Benefits of Babywearing Part 1.
Thank you for reading!
1 – Portions of this article can be credited to Catherine McKenzie of the ICPA, and issue #23 of Pathways to Family Wellness.