LOS ANGELES (July 8, 1999) -- While the potentially life-saving benefits of the "Back to Sleep" campaign -- launched nationally in 1994 to reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) -- are indisputable, the admonition to place babies on their backs during sleep has resulted in an epidemic of plagiocephaly, or "misshapen head," in infants, according to John M. Graham, M.D., Sc.D., director of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center's Craniofacial Clinic.
Over the last five years, the incidence of nonsynostotic positional plagiocephaly has jumped fivefold: from an estimated 1 in 300 live births to 1 in 60 births today. Though easily treatable, plagiocephaly and accompanying torticollis, a shortened or tightened muscle on one side of the neck, may go unrecognized by parents and health care practitioners alike.
Misshapen heads are often secondary to the muscular torticollis, which causes the baby to tilt his or her head toward the tight side and turn away, resulting in a preferred resting position. As a consequence, the infant's normal, rapid rate of head growth coupled with a consistent resting position can lead to significant asymmetry of the head shape.
"When infants sleep in one position, there is consistent pressure on their soft and forming skull, which can result in deformation of the head," explained Dr. Graham, who estimates the clinic handles 250 to 300 visits a year for this condition. "Unfortunately, many care providers are unaware of the symptoms and inappropriately reassure parents that the child will grow out of it. Left untreated, torticollis and plagiocephaly can result in permanent distortion of the head as well as persistent facial asymmetry."
The result is often needless worry, he added. "It's really a very simple problem
that needs to be more clearly recognized by the medical community and public."
Muscular torticollis is usually caused by the limited room in the uterus for the
baby during late gestation, and it is even more com
Contact: Sandra Van
Cedars-Sinai Medical Center