Flathead Syndrome Associated with Lower Developmental Scores in Preschoolers

Deformational plagiocephaly (PD), or flathead syndrome, is a common condition, especially since our country began to place our infants on their backs during sleep, to prevent sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Even my middle son had it and was referred to a neurosurgeon for evaluation. In this Pediatrics study, researchers found that preschoolers with PD compared to those without PD had significantly lower scores in cognition, language, and parent-reported adaptive behavior, while the smallest difference was seen in motor development. The authors note that having PD doesn’t imply that it causes developmental problems, but that it may serve as a maker for developmental risk.

Here’s my take on this important issue: Keeping infants on their backs has been shown to increase the risk of developing PD. While the “back to sleep” campaign in 1993 did lower the rate of SIDS by about 50%, it may also have had a detrimental effect on deep sleep quality for all of our infants. Supine sleep has been shown to promote less efficient sleep, compared to side or tummy side down sleep. Given that infants and toddlers spend a large amount of time sleeping, and since we know that good quality deep sleep is essential for proper brain and cognitive development, it’s not too far fetched to says that having PD means that you’re not getting good, quality sleep. Dentists have also proposed that any asymmetry in the back of the head can cause detrimental changes in the front of the head and face, with possible bite changes and malocclusion.

For those of you with children, did they sleep better on their sides, front, or back? If they were back sleepers, did they have any PD?

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