Babies With Flat Heads: What's the Cause?
Most new parents these days are well-versed in the tenets of the "Back to Sleep" campaign of 1992. Launched by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the purpose of the drive was to educate new mothers and fathers about the merits of having newborn infants sleep on their backs instead of their stomachs, which had previously been the norm. Recent findings at the time had shown that back-sleeping would cut the risk of sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDS.
However, a recent article notes that while SIDS has decreased since the original campaign, observers have been surprised to note the rise of another infant-related occurrence. Instances of plagiocephaly - the scientific term that addresses babies who have a "flat head," have seemingly increased at a steady pace since 1992.
The AAP has consistently purported that back-sleeping is the likely reason for the prevalence of plagiocephaly but a new study published online Monday in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine challenges the accepted status quo, suggesting that the increase is due to increased awareness on the part of medical practitioners. A senior epidemiologist of the Birth Defects Epidemiology and Surveillance branch of the Texas Department of State Health Services that authored the study agrees. Peter Langlois states that "...there is little evidence for an actual increase in plagiocephaly from 1999 to 2007." Langlois notes that the increase in cases may be more likely due to medical practitioners' greater ability to detect cases.
However Joseph Piatt, a professor of neurological surgery and pediatrics at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, disagrees. He estimates that babies with flat heads account for 25 per cent of outpatient visits at A. I. duPont Hospital for Children in Wilmington, Del., where he works as a neurosurgeon.
Regardless, the answer as to whether or not back-sleeping can be related to plagiocephaly will not be easily determined. Instances of plagiocephaly have been noted in all demographic groups, regardless of maternal age, ethnicity race, infant sex, gestational age or multiple births. Though treatment in the form of orthotic helmets is sometimes prescribed, the jury is out on whether these items really have a long-term correctional effect.
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