• Parents are ignoring SIDS guidelines out of fear of flat head syndrome. (AAP)
New Australian research finds parents are putting their babies at risk of cot death.
By
Caitlin Chang

10 Aug 2016 - 1:35 PM  UPDATED 11 Aug 2016 - 2:16 PM

One of the most common challenges facing new parents is the many pieces of health advice they receive. And a new study from the George Institute for Global Health at the University of Sydney has identified one area where conflicting advice may be putting their children at risk. 

The research published in the journal Child: Care, Health and Development today has found that parents are ignoring Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) guidelines in an effort to prevent their children from suffering positional plagiocephaly, or flat head syndrome.

Plagiocephaly is a condition where one side of a child’s skill is flattened, caused by remaining in a lying position for too long. The number of children with flat head syndrome has increased significantly in recent years, partly due to the introduction of SIDS guidelines in 1992.

However, researchers have raised concerns that parents were ignoring SIDS guidelines in an effort to prevent flat head.

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During this study, experts interviewed 121 parents and grandparents in Australia and Canada about their efforts to prevent plagiocephaly. According to lead researcher, Associate Professor Alexandra Martiniuk, some parents are being advised to adopt some “risky” practices to avoid this largely aesthetic condition.

“There are pillows being sold as a prevention or treatment for flat head, which are highly not recommended under SIDS guidelines,” she explains. “In our study, some parents mentioned that chiropractors or osteopaths that they sought for care [for flat head], were selling these pillows. That’s a mismatch because these pillows are not safe, as deemed by SIDS guidelines.”

SIDS can happen to anyone.

Other risky practices included placing a rolled up pillow under a child’s mattress and using a hanging-style bassinette--a method commonly shared online--to remove pressure on different parts of the head. However, these methods can put a baby at risk of rolling to the edge of a cot and suffocating, or rolling out of bed altogether.

Currently, around 100 children die of SIDS in Australia each year, although this figure has dropped dramatically since the introduction of the SIDS guidelines in 1992, which recommends babies sleep on their backs.

According to Assoc Prof Martiniuk, there was a common mentality among the parents interviewed that placiocephaly was a much more likely outcome than cot death. “They felt flat head was so much more of a reality for them,” she explains. “Most people said that SIDS wouldn’t happen to their family, so they thought it would be someone else’s problem.”

However, Assoc Prof Martiniuk believes it is essential parents remain vigilant against the risk of cot death. “SIDS can happen to anyone,” she says. “There should be nothing in the area that the child’s sleeping in, not tiling the mattress, no pillows, no toys and [put them] on their backs to sleep.

As for plagiocephaly, she says a few minutes a day of tummy time and upright positioning will help strengthen a baby’s neck muscles, reducing the risk.  Alternating sides during breast feeding is also recommended. For any parents concerned about flat head, they should seek advice from their GP--not the internet.