How to Carry Your Baby and Prevent Flat Head Syndrome
When carrying your baby, it’s important to minimise pressure on the back of the head. Because the bones in the skull are still malleable, allowing your baby to consistently rest the head in the same position can eventually cause it to become misshapen. This post covers some of the best ways to carry your baby in order to prevent flat head syndrome from occurring or at least reverse its effects in the early stages. Is there just one best way to carry a baby or are there a number of ways to carry your baby safely? We explore the options below.
The Back to Sleep Campaign and Flat Head Syndrome
Ever since the Back to Sleep Campaign in the 1990s, parents have been encouraged to place their babies on their backs to sleep to minimise the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). While this advice is correct, the incidence of flat head syndrome has shot up as a side effect of babies spending too much time on their backs – both whilst awake and asleep.
Over the past couple of decades, manufacturers have developed all manner of products designed to make parents’ lives easier, from buggies and prams to carrycots and car seats. This has had the undesirable effect of creating what has been termed a generation of ‘bucket babies’, contributing further to the increased incidence of flat head syndrome.
Carrying your baby correctly doesn’t only help to prevent flat head syndrome. It also promotes the healthy development of muscles in the upper body and reduces the likelihood that your baby will develop torticollis. This is a condition characterised by stiffness in the neck, which in turn can increase the risk that flat head syndrome will develop.
Moreover, holding your baby in your arms rather than using a carrier increases cuddle time, an integral part of parent-child bonding. For further information, please read our blog post on top tips for bonding with your baby.
How to Carry a Baby – 7 Safe Ways to Carry Your Baby
As far as possible, you should hold your baby so that the head is not resting against you. Try to encourage them to face in alternating directions to promote muscle development in the neck and upper body.
Here are seven of the best ways to carry your baby:
1. On your hip – rest your baby on your hip, facing inwards so the back of their head isn’t pressed against anything. Alternate sides each time you pick them up to make sure you’re varying your baby’s posture.
2. Over your shoulder – carry your baby over your shoulder, gently supporting the head in a centred position. Again, don’t forget to alternate sides. This position allows you to carry your baby without applying pressure to the back of their head and lets them see what’s going on around them.
3. The swing – sit your baby in front of you on your forearm, as though he is sitting on a swing. Gently keep the head centred. This posture helps improve core strength in your baby which is beneficial for tummy time and allows your baby to build confidence when learning to sit.
4. Sleeping tiger – carry your baby belly-down on your forearm, like a sleeping tiger to let them rest on their tummy in a safe capacity without having pressure applied to the back of their head.
5. In front – hold your baby in front of you to encourage them to turn their head and watch the activities going on around the room. Not only is this posture great for avoiding pressure on the head but also develops your baby’s social skills.
6. Aeroplanes – as your baby’s core muscles become stronger, reward them by playing aeroplanes.
7. In a sling – when out and about, use a sling, papoose or baby backpack rather than a buggy or basket to carry your baby. This is not only easier for you but also enables more bonding time.
You should start carrying your baby in these positions from an early age. Once infants reach four to five months, there’s a limit to what can be achieved in this way and further intervention may be required if a deformity is still present.
Other Top Tips for Preventing Flat Head Syndrome
- Try to minimise pressure on the back of the head for at least half the time your baby is awake. Tummy time (‘back to sleep, tummy to play’) is ideal for this. Provide a mat or play gym for your baby to make tummy time engaging and motivating for your little one.
- Move your baby’s toys around to encourage them to face in different directions. You could also try moving lights around in your baby’s bedroom as their gaze tends to follow lighting and this is a good way to encourage your baby to look around.
- When infants suck their thumbs, they tend to face in that direction. Try covering the thumb that your baby usually sucks with a mitten or plaster to encourage them to suck the other thumb or stop thumbsucking altogether.
- Alternate the side from which your baby feeds. This will come naturally if you’re breastfeeding but can be easy to forget if bottle feeding. Make a special effort to alternate the angle and side of the feed.
- Don’t leave your baby in a car seat or carrier for any longer than is necessary. We explore this further in our blog post which aims to answer the question, how long should a baby be in a car seat?
- While your baby should always be placed on the back to sleep to minimise the risk of SIDS, there are subtle ways in which you can vary the position of the head. A number of these can be found in our repositioning guide.
Once infants reach four to five months of age, they start to move around more independently and the bones in the skull begin to harden. If the above techniques have failed to make as much as a difference as you had hoped by this age, they are unlikely to be very effective at all.
At this stage, the only effective treatment for flat head syndrome comes in the form of a specially made helmet, which gradually guides the head into a more normal shape. These helmets, also known as cranial orthoses, are proven to safely correct head shape deformities in babies of up to 12 – 14 months of age.
The earlier this treatment is started, the more effective it is. Once the condition reaches the advanced stages, it cannot be treated at all except through surgery. So if your baby has a case of flat head syndrome that these techniques have failed to correct, or you came across these ways to carry your baby too late, it’s important to get the deformity looked at as soon as possible.
We hope you feel more equipped to explore the different ways to carry your baby. Call Technology in Motion on 0330 100 1800 to book an appointment at one of our UK clinics, or browse our website for more information on the prevention and treatment of flat head syndrome.