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Sleep position may give babies flat spot on head

Putting babies on their backs to sleep has sharply cut the rate of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, but it has also left nearly half of infants with a flattened head, a new Canadian study estimates.

Researchers found that 47 percent of 440 2-month-olds having routine checkups had what doctors call positional plagiocephaly, in which the back or one side of the head has a flat spot.

Flat spots are a cosmetic issue, not a medical problem, experts stressed, and parents should keep putting their infants on their backs to sleep.

"It still is very important to put infants to sleep on their backs to prevent SIDS," said study author Aliyah Mawji of the School of Nursing at Mount Royal University in Calgary, Alberta. The study, published online Monday and in the August issue of Pediatrics, gives a better estimate of the incidence of flat head than had past research, Mawji said.

It's not clear whether the rate in her study in Calgary would reflect what's going on everywhere, Mawji said.

Young infants are susceptible to flat spots because the bones of the skull are not fused together, so that the head can get through the birth canal and the skull can accommodate a rapidly growing brain later.

For the past 20 years, experts have been advising parents to put infants on their backs to sleep to reduce the risk of SIDS. The campaign, now called Safe to Sleep, is credited in the United States with a 50 percent drop in SIDS, the U.S. National Institutes of Health says.

So keep putting your baby on his or her back to sleep, said Dr. Roya Samuels, a pediatrician at Cohen Children's Medical Center in New Hyde Park. To help reshape a flat spot, Samuels tells parents to lay the baby on the back with the head facing right on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and facing left on the other days. -- HealthDay