What’s causing flat spots on babies’ heads, and how to prevent it

Apr 9, 2018, 5:28 PM | Updated: 9:31 pm

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — Swings and bouncers are great for keeping babies content, but some experts say they contribute to a common problem that could affect your baby’s development.

Sherri Gunn and Anne Tullis, newborn ICU nurses from Utah, noticed a lot of babies were having trouble nursing.

Anne Tullis and Sherri Gunn of Success with Breastfeeding discuss what causes babies to develop flat spots on their heads.

“Mom had great anatomy, milk supply, baby’s mouth looked great and baby still wouldn’t nurse,” said Tullis, whose company is called Success With Breastfeeding.

The culprit, they said, is a flat spot on the babies’ heads caused by too much time on their backs.

In a study published in 2013, researchers at Mount Royal University in Calgary found half of all 2-month-old babies screened had flat spots on their heads.

Devices designed to hold babies safe still could be contributing to the problem.

It can lead to tight neck and tongue muscles, and facial abnormalities that make it hard for babies to eat.

“Her face was a little skiwampus and she wasn’t able to latch appropriately,” said Sara Peralda-Scott, a new mother. She brings 4-week-old Elizabeth to the classes Gunn and Tullis teach.

They follow the Tummy Time Method that counteracts the time babies spend on their backs.

Sherri Gunn, of Success with Breastfeeding, teaches a group of new mothers in Farmington the Tummy Time Method.

“Over the first two months, babies are spending an average of 700 hours in a container: all sorts of containers; car seats, and bouncers and Rock ‘N Plays, and swings,” Tullis said.

That causes gas, irritability, colic, and sleep problems, she said. “Because when they’re in the container, it puts this pressure on the back of their head all the way down the back of their spine.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends placing infants on their stomachs while awake starting the first day home from the hospital for three to five minutes at a time and building up.

Most babies don’t enjoy tummy time at first. With a few techniques, Tullis says babies can learn to love it longer.

“Mom or dad or brother and sister, grandma or grandpa, just need to be on the floor with baby. Baby feels safe and secure that way,” Tullis said.

Using toys, pacifiers, and other comfort measures during tummy time can help.

A new mother and her infant practice tummy time, which doctors recommend for all babies starting the day they get home from the hospital.

In the classes, they also do stretching exercises, and encourage babies to move on their own.

A modified tummy time can work well, too, they say, like using a beach ball rather than placing a baby on the floor. “Stretching, elongating those muscles, but all with a little bit of fun.”

Encouraging babies to turn their head to the side they don’t prefer puts pressure on both sides of the face, which helped 4-month-old Elizabeth nurse. “She can now lift her head so it’s straight,” said Peralda-Scott.

The method has also been great for new mom Adriana Mortenson.

“It changed my life,” she said. “He now naps for about two hours or more, and he sleeps a lot better at night.”

Gunn said, “These are really difficult babies that now are content, and happy and less fussy and so that just makes us tickled pink.”

It’s all about helping babies develop healthy nervous systems, Gunn said, so they can grow properly, and moms can delight them even more.

Other ways to improve flat heads include: limiting use of swings, bouncy seats and strollers, along with rotating the position of toys in the crib.

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What’s causing flat spots on babies’ heads, and how to prevent it