The truth about pillows for flat head syndrome
The incidence of flat head syndrome has soared since the Back to Sleep (AKA Safe to Sleep) campaign, and increasingly, parents have been looking for new ways to prevent and correct the condition. Plagiocephaly pillows are often used by parents to prevent flat head syndrome. As constant pressure on a hard surface is what causes flat head syndrome, these pillows mold to the shape of the head instead of pressing against it. Pillows for flat head syndrome are one of the cheapest and most readily available options, but do they actually work (and crucially, are they safe)?
Are Flat Head Syndrome Pillows Effective?
Although there are various pillows on the market that have been designed to reduce the risk of an infant developing a flat head, we do not encourage their use.
Flat head syndrome pillows contravene the safety advice issued by the NHS and the Safe to Sleep guidelines from the American Department of Health. Both recommend that babies always sleep on the back on a flat, firm surface, without duvets, quilts, blankets, wedges, bedding rolls or pillows.
The main reason for this is that if a baby’s face ends up pressed up against any such object, they will not be able to lift themselves up, increasing the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
Safety concerns aside, there is no scientific evidence to prove whether or not a flat head syndrome pillow will stop flat head syndrome. The fact remains, however, that placing your baby to sleep on a flat surface can leave an indentation on the skull. So, what is the solution?
Preventing Flat Head Syndrome – Safely
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that whilst babies must always sleep on their backs, they should be given time on their tummies whilst awake and you are with them (‘back to sleep, tummy to play‘). Repositioning your baby in this way will help to relieve pressure on the back of the head without contributing to an increased risk of SIDS.
If you have a doughnut-shaped baby pillow, we recommend that this is only used to support the back of their head when they are awake and you are with them.
The usual time to begin repositioning is as soon as you notice a flattening, although it can be started any time from birth – and the sooner the better. Between the ages of four and five months, it will start to become less effective as your baby will be moving and rolling more independently.
If a flattening has already started to develop, you should begin repositioning immediately. Small changes, such as feeding your baby from alternating sides and moving objects of interest from one side of the cot to the other, can make all the difference, as can carrying your baby in your arms where possible rather than using a buggy or carry cot.
Not only does supervised tummy time help with flat head syndrome; it can also help you teach your baby to prop herself up, and it’s excellent for strengthening the back, hips and neck muscles. More tips and techniques can be found in our Repositioning Guide.
We appreciate that it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the conflicting advice on the various products for flat head syndrome. As a parent your top priority will, of course, be the safety of your child, and until we know more, the safety concerns relating to pillows for flat head syndrome far outweigh their potential benefits.
In many cases, repositioning your baby whilst awake can provide adequate correction for mild flat head syndrome. However, if this has failed to make the difference that you had hoped for by the time your baby reaches four to six months of age, helmet therapy is the only safe, effective and scientifically proven way to treat flat head syndrome.
If you have any concerns about the shape of your baby’s head and wish to enquire about helmet therapy, Technology in Motion can help. Call 0330 100 1800 to arrange a free, no-obligation assessment at your nearest clinic or browse our website for more information on flat head syndrome and the treatment options that we provide.