An increase in infant cranial deformity with supine sleeping position

J Craniofac Surg. 1996 Jan;7(1):5-11. doi: 10.1097/00001665-199601000-00005.


Abnormalities of the occipital cranial suture in infancy can cause significant posterior cranial asymmetry, malposition of the ears, distortion of the cranial base, deformation of the forehead, and facial asymmetry. Over the past 2 years, we have noted a dramatic increase in the incidence of deformation of the occipital skull in our tertiary referral center. Our patient referral base has not changed appreciably over the past 5 years and patients have been referred from the same primary practitioner base. The timing of this increase correlates closely with the acceptance in our area of recommended changes in sleeping position to supine or side positioning for infants because of the fear of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). A total of 51 infants with occipital cranial deformity, with a mean age of 5.5 months at presentation, have been evaluated and treated by a single craniofacial surgeon in the 16-month period from September 1993 to December 1994. Older infants were treated with continuous positioning by the parent keeping the infant off the involved side. Younger infants and those with poor head control were treated with a soft-shell helmet. Mean timing of initial diagnosis and start of treatment was 5.5 months. Mean duration of helmet for positional treatment was 3.8 months. To date, only 3 of 51 patients have required surgical intervention, and other patients demonstrated spontaneous improvement of all measured parameters. Follow up has ranged from 8 to 24 months. We believe that most occipital plagiocephaly deformities are deformations rather than true cranio-synostoses. Despite varying amounts of suture abnormality evidenced on computed tomographic scans, most deformities can be corrected without surgery. In cases where progression of the cranial deformity occurs, despite conservative therapy, surgical intervention should be undertaken at approximately 1 year of age. The almost universal acceptance in the State of North Carolina of positioning neonates on their backs to avoid SIDS, may well increase the incidence of these deformities in the future.

MeSH terms

  • Cranial Sutures / pathology*
  • Craniosynostoses / diagnosis*
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Facial Asymmetry / etiology
  • Female
  • Forehead / pathology
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant Care / methods*
  • Male
  • Occipital Bone / pathology*
  • Prone Position
  • Skull / pathology
  • Sleep*
  • Sudden Infant Death / prevention & control
  • Supine Position*