Research shows parents are ignoring SIDS prevention guidelines in a bid to avoid flat head syndrome.

A study published in Child: Care, Health and Development highlights parents are ignoring guidelines and are using pillows and potentially dangerous sleeping positions to prevent or treat their baby’s flat head – a condition which affects around 20% of infants.

Associate Professor Alexandra Martiniuk from The George Institute for Global Health at the University of Sydney studied families in both Sydney and Canada and says she is concerned by the amount of parents ignoring Sudden Infant Death Syndrome guidelines, reports the Australian Journal of Pharmacy.

“Flat head is concerning for parents because it affects how their child’s looks—now and in the future,” she says.

“Some parents also believe that flat head affects their child’s development.

“Parents told us because they could see their baby getting a flat head they felt it was a more real threat than cot death. So when they noticed a flat spot developing they stopped following SIDS safe sleeping guidelines.”

The number of children with flat head syndrome or positional plagiocephaly has risen significantly in recent years, in part due to SIDS guidelines which began in 1992, which recommend placing babies on their backs to sleep.

Flat head syndrome can occur if the baby consistently holds his or her head a particular way when lying and causes the baby’s head to have a flat spot or be misshapen. Parents are advised to give their children tummy time while supervised and awake and to alternate their baby’s head position while sleeping to avoid the syndrome. Severe cases are often treated with an orthotic helmet.

However, the study found parents are using a range of devices and techniques, ranging from placing rolled up towels under the mattress to cause it to slide to one side, putting toys in the bed on one side or using pillows being marketed to reduce flat head.

Dr Martiniuk says there is an urgent need to educate parents about the use of such home approaches.

“We know that many parents are confused and fearful and are being given conflicting advice from health care professionals,” she says.

“For instance some GPs suggest parents wait and see if the condition improves on its own, other GPs go down the path of referrals, whilst some chiropractors are selling these pillows.

“There needs to be clear messaging about how parents can safely prevent flat head syndrome from developing.

“Parents should not to resort to using unsafe pillows.  Although these pillows are marketed for flat head, there is no evidence that they work, and there is evidence they make the baby’s sleeping environment more dangerous,” said Dr Martiniuk.

SIDS and Kids recommends:
How to Sleep your Baby Safely:

1. Sleep baby on the back from birth, not on the tummy or side

2. Sleep baby with head and face uncovered

3. Keep baby smoke free before birth and after

4. Provide a safe sleeping environment night and day

5. Sleep baby in their own safe sleeping place in the same room as an adult caregiver for the first six to twelve months

6. Breastfeed baby

Share your comments below.

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  • follow the guidelines, they are there for your child’s safety


  • I cannot believe parents are ignoring health warnings for the sake of appearance, which will fix itself in time. Surely the safety of you baby, their life, is more important then a flag head!


  • I think having a dead baby is far worse than having some sort of physical problem or plain old vanity


  • Following side guidelines of far more important than worrying about a temporary flat head in my opinion


  • I strictly followed the SIDS recommendations especially by my foster daughter and she developed a serious flat head indeed. But I always thought “better a flat head then cot death”


  • Most babies don’t like tummy time until they are able to lift their heads enough that their nose isn’t flat on the floor. The only other way with a tiny baby is to lie them across your lap and support their head if needed.


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