Friday, October 24, 2008

Back To Sleep Query

Dear Building Cathedrals,

My 4-mos-old son, Sean, is suffering from a flat head due to all the time spent on his back. I know pediatricians have just started recommending back sleeping in the last few years and we all slept on our fronts and had nice round heads to show for it. All the mothers in my life who had front-sleeping babies can't stand Sean's head! And this is a C-Section head!

Do your babies have flat heads like this too? Am I to take solace knowing that there will be at least one generation of flat-headed babies and Sean will have classmates with similar head shape? Does it get round again at some point? Or is Sean in a football-head league of his own? Help!

-Erin, North Carolina

Dear Erin,
First things first, kudos to you as a first-time mommy for enduring the criticism of those around you!!  There is nothing like first-time-motherhood and feeling like you have to measure up to others' expectations.  I applaud your sincere questioning in the midst of scrutiny!!  Just know that 1) you are not alone and 2) there are ways to help Sean's head.

I write in response to your query with a bit of personal experience.  M, my first, also had a very soft skull as do most young children (except for Red's kids who have iron skulls--really, they have beautifully-shaped heads that stay round regardless of time spent on their backs! Amazing!)   We noticed within the first few months that M's head was becoming pretty flat.  He loved to sleep on his back, looking straight up.  He enjoyed time on his "play gym", which also meant more time and pressure on his little head.  Basically any activity we did (except tummy time) required M to be on his back.  Alas, I had to take action!!  Since then I've become rather OCD in my approach to the problem, but the result has been nicer, rounder heads for my boys! 

Here are some tips for giving Sean's little head "a break":
--Try placing a rolled blanket behind his head when he sits in a car seat or bouncy chair just enough to prevent his head from touching the back of the contraption.  I find time spent in these types of chairs really flattens the head a good bit.  Any relief you can give will help.
--Use a sleep positioner like this one to prop Sean on his back/side while sleeping.  I usually angle the baby just a small bit toward his left or right side and switch sides for each nap.  The wedges on the side have Velcro to help prop the baby and prevent him from rolling over.  I usually will stop using this after my babies start to roll more.
--Shift his head while he's sleeping.  Once he's in deep enough sleep, you could try turning his head to the left or right to take some pressure off of the back.  Funny enough, though, babies can also develop a flat spot on the left or right side as well.  One of my nephews had this and it really stressed out my poor sister!
--As soon as Sean has more trunk stability, get him off the floor and in something like an Exersaucer.  M's head did gain more roundness as he aged, especially because he loved his daily time in his "office" (as we affectionately called the Exersaucer!)  You will find that with each passing month, things will naturally improve because Sean is generally more upright.

And if all else fails, doctors can prescribe a special head-shaping helmet for children with extreme shape problems.  My nephew almost ended up with one of these, but thankfully nature took its course and corrected the problem in due time.  

Take care, Erin, and best of luck with these suggestions!
And as you well know, you have a beautiful, healthy little boy and that is most important! :)


Courtney said...

I know other have liked the Bumpo for brief periods, which also helps get the little ones off of their backs.


Maria said...

I wouldn't worry too much. As they get a little older and more activity, most babies' heads naturally become more round again.

My daughter Lucy has hydrocephalus, resulting in a huge, very mis-shapen head for quite awhile (flat in the back and lopsided, too!). We debated putting her in a helmet, but with the shunt inserted in her head and her glasses, I just thought it would be too uncomfortable for her to have more on her head. Amazingly, her head is close to normal now. I would utilize some of the suggestions in the post, stop worrying, and let nature take its course!

Kate E. said...

Three thoughts...I used the sleep positioner that was in the post and loved it...however my doctor (who I love) just mentioned that being propped on their side is not recommended so don't tilt him too much.

For a relief from all those flat head places like the bouncy seat or play mat try putting him in a sling or baby carrier as you do things around the house (if he likes took us a few tries to find a position Jack liked).

Don't worry too much, Jack had an enormous head (huge really, especially considering the rest of him which was peanuty). He was touch and go on helmet there for a few check-ups because of his soft spot on top...these things do finally sort themselves out and now I only notice his enormous noggin when I go to buy hats.

Juris Mater said...

Erin, hi! SO good to see a picture of the now-two men in your life.

Just wanted to second, or third, the suggestion of Bumbo seats and Bjorn/Ergo type upright baby carriers. Babies seem to love both, both allow you to have your hands free, and both will help the head shape. But yes, he's normal, just like lots and lots and LOTS of young babies in his generation.

He's a beautiful little boy, congrats again!

Jennifer in MN said...

As a mother to 6, mine have never had the shaping of the baby in the picture, though they have had some flattening. Here's what I've used:

exersaucer padded with blankets, to get baby upright

Bumbo seat

Wraps, mei tai, or up-right sling baby carriers help get baby off of the head or

tummy time, lots of it, either on the floor or tummy to tummy with mom and dad

limit time in car seats and bouncy seats. Try to position baby's head to different sides when back sleeping.

Ask your Doc, to make sure there is nothing wrong, they may suggest other options, as well.

God bless

Joanne said...

I have two kids and they both have enormous, huge, GIANT heads, never on a chart for size, BIG OLD heads. They've never gotten flat but with my first it's because he never laid down to sleep and with my second, I carried her in my Moby wrap a lot in the beginning and then once she got some head control I put her in that Bumbo or swing. I loved the Moby because I could just put it on and then tuck her in and move around the house.

The one thing I want to say is that I would work against putting your baby on his stomach to sleep until he is able to roll over. I am finding that there is a bit of a backlash about the Back to Sleep idea and I'm afraid of what it's going to do to SIDS rates that have been cut in half since the BTS program started. I know that sometimes people's peds will advise them to put their babes on their bellies and I'm sure there are times when it's okay, but I just want to say that generally speaking it's still thought of as best to put our babies down on their backs to sleep. Ugh. I hope that isn't a rude or patronizing thing to do - I just can't tell you how many people told me to put my Maria down on her belly since she was born in January and it makes me nervous.

Jennifer in MN said...

I let my babies nap on their tummies, but they nap in my presence, usually on a blanket on the floor. I figure as long as I'm there, it's safe. We co sleep with our babies and they tend to either be flat on their backs or nursing on their sides.

Erin said...

Wow, thank you all so much!

I am happy to report that Sean is just now getting the hang of his Bumpo seat, albeit still falling over now and then, loves his Bjorn, and is starting to roll to his side during long sleeps. Maybe these things will help him round out a bit! I will also try the rolled up towel in the bouncy and carseat. He loves the bouncy, but all that time on his back does make me worry! Unfortunately, he loathes tummy time. We also have a doc appt next week so I will ask if we are on the right track!

As for the other mothers-of-tummy-sleepers in my life, i just keep telling them that other babies will look like this too. Hopefully all our babies will have nice round heads by the time they go to school.

Thanks again for all the suggestions and support!

Elena said...

I worry a little about putting a rolled blanket behind baby's head as it could interfere with his breathing i.e. constricting his windpipe.

B-Mama said...

Elena, your worries are legitimate ones, which is why I use a very thin blanket, only enough to prop his head. I also push it down as close to the shoulders as it will go.

Anonymous said...

As much as possible, I try to let the baby nap on his side on the boppy on my lap. This takes
1) good planning on my part to have everything I and the kids need where a child can get it
2) good luck

Two useful phrases for dealing with people who did things differently with their babies

1) Our peditrician (recommend X for this child) / (is monitoring the situation) and we trust her

2) Isn't it amazing how much doctor recommendations change every decade? I wonder what they'll be saying when this child is a parent?

Enjoy your baby.