Flat head syndrome is a real concern for parents and it is our responsibility to make sure our baby stays protected AND sleeps in a safe environment.
Flat head pillows exist and claim to help, but are they safe for you to use with your little one? Is it safe for your baby to fall asleep while using a flat head pillow?
Let’s cut to the chase.
Flat head pillow are actually not safe for sleep and should probably be avoided altogether. There are NO safe accessories that can be used in a crib or bassinet with a young baby. The AAP suggests that babies sleep in an empty crib or bassinet until 12 months.
There are medical devices such as helmets that can help with flat head syndrome and you should always consult with your pediatrician before using any accessory on your infant baby. Check out my choices for the best baby pillows for flat head syndrome.
Let’s look into this issue in more detail and understand why you should avoid flat head pillows.
Is It Safe for Babies to Use Flat Head Pillows?
The American Academy of Pediatrics advises parents to create a safe sleeping environment for babies, especially newborns .
Their safety guidelines include removing any soft and loose object from the baby’s sleep environment, including baby pillows, blankets, and toys.
The same safety advice about using a pillow is also included in the Safe to Sleep Campaign of the US National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD).
This recommendation reduces the risk of SIDS or Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.
Therefore, using a flat head pillow is NOT SAFE for babies because they can roll over the pillow and suffocate, causing death.
Sudden Infant Death Syndrome or SIDS
According to the US National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, SIDS is the sudden and unexplained death of an infant less than 1-year-old [R].
The cause is unknown even after conducting an investigation which includes an autopsy, reviewing the clinical background, and observing the death scene.
Fortunately, the Safe to Sleep campaign helps parents prevent SIDS.
The campaign specifies known risk factors that are associated with SIDS that are sleep-related.
One risk factor that involves baby pillows is Accidental Suffocation and Strangulation in Bed (ASSB). The cause of death of the baby could be identified to be due to:
- Suffocation by soft bedding or objects like mattresses and baby pillows that blocks the baby’s nose and mouth
- Someone laying over or rolling on top of the infant blocking the airway
- Wedging or entrapment when the babies get trapped or fall forward in between a baby pillow and the mattress or bed frame
- Strangulation of the head and neck of a sleeping baby by the blanket, towel, or baby pillow
What Is Plagiocephaly or Flat Head Syndrome?
It is essential to understand why people are concerned about the baby’s head shape.
Plagiocephaly is the distortion or flattening on the side of the baby’s skull. The most common form of Flat Head Syndrome is a flat spot on the back or one side of the head.
Causes of Flat Head Syndrome:
- Lying on the back on a flat surface without a pillow for an extended period
- Not enough tummy time or positioning the baby on their stomach
- Flat Head Syndrome can start even before the baby is born due to the baby’s position inside the womb because of the limited space, especially for multiples.
- Premature babies also have a higher chance of having a flat head because their bones are softer, and they stay longer in the hospital lying on their backs.
- Muscular torticollis or stiff neck of breech babies inside the womb can cause Plagiocephaly because they tend to favor one side or position.
Effects of Flat Head Syndrome:
- It can affect the alignment of the ears and create bald spots on the infant’s head.
- The head can be deformed and cause problems when the child grows up because of the irregular form of the head, like using safety headgears.
- There is a risk of developmental delay in gross motor and fine motor skills if the Flat Head Syndrome is severe and not treated early.
Flat Head Syndrome is usually not a major concern unless there is difficulty in head movement and developmental delays observed in the child.
It usually resolves on its own as the baby spends more time sitting and walking.
Will Pillows Help Prevent My Baby Developing a Flat Head?
These flat head baby pillows are tools that help prevent flat head syndrome since most pediatricians recommend making babies sleep on their backs.
Many companies that sell these will tell you that it is safe to use and claim that the baby pillow supports the neck and back of infants.
Some baby pillows are even made with memory foam and don’t have loose fabric covers.
These can somewhat help prevent flat head syndrome in babies, but it is NOT WORTH THE RISK of SIDS.
Also, positional plagiocephaly or flat head syndrome caused by staying in one position for a long time will resolve in just a few weeks when the infant’s skull bones naturally form and grow.
So, you don’t need any help from any pillow.
Other Ways to Prevent Flat Head Syndrome Without the Use of Pillows
If you’re still bothered and think that your baby’s flat head is not improving, here are some preventative measures:
Reposition Your Baby’s Head
Staying in the same position lying down is the most common cause of flat heads.
Changing the head position now and then in the crib, in the car seat, or the baby bouncer is an excellent preventive measure.
Carry Your Baby More Often
Preventing your baby to sleep in one direction by carrying them more often is an excellent practice as it also strengthens head control and neck muscles.
Give Baby Plenty of Tummy Time
Put your baby on the tummy area and exercise the neck muscles as they try to prop themselves up. Use toys to get their attention during supervised tummy time.
You must do this while they are active and awake; NEVER leave them unattended while on their tummy.
Change Your Baby’s Position When You Put Them in the Crib
As you put them down to sleep on the firm surface of the crib, modify the sleeping positions.
It will encourage the baby to move the head to another sleeping position to have LESS PRESSURE while lying down on the flat side.
If your doctor recommends the help of a physical therapist, they might suggest using a special kind of helmet.
For severe cases, you can use helmet therapy to treat flat head syndrome. For safety reasons, there is a proper way of using such medical devices, and it is scientifically proven.
Pillow Use for Older Babies
Many parents are excited to decorate and accessorize a baby’s room, especially new parents. But keep in mind that pillows and soft bedding should not be part of the crib.
As infants grow older, the American Academy of Pediatrics believes it is safe to introduce pillows.
Around the age of 2 or older, children can safely get up on their own and move.
Compared to a baby’s neck and head control, toddlers have more strength and can move and get out of a sleeping position that hinders them from breathing correctly.
The best pillows for toddlers are those that provide support at the neck, firm and small.
Make sure to have the right size, design, and material to give the child a comfortable rest. Having no loose coverings and fabrics will make baby pillows safe to use.
Final Thoughts on the Safety of Flat Head Pillows
There are many things that worry parents, especially new mums; even just putting a baby to sleep is hard enough.
Overthinking and worrying about child safety can make parents super stressed. Now even using a pillow needs to be considered too.
It is a big responsibility to keep the baby safe as the baby sleeps. Having a baby sleep on a pillow doesn’t seem risky, and some may even think it will prevent flat head syndrome.
It is crucial to understand SIDS and how a pillow can cause death in infants.
Keep in mind that flat head syndrome can have lasting effects on the baby, so I DON’T recommend flat head pillows.
Instead of using a flat head baby pillow, there are a lot of alternatives to prevent a flat head, like changing the baby’s head position while sleeping, carrying the baby, and tummy exercise.
Once the baby turns 2, he can now use a pillow. Parents should still examine if the design and material make the baby pillows safe to use.
Steph is a passionate mom who co-founded Wumblers to share her parenting journey with others. She graduated from Concordia University with a masters degree in Education Technology and worked as an advisor for many years. Steph loves being a mom and wants to have more kids.
Learn more about Steph and Wumblers here.