Preventing Flat Heads in Babies
who Sleep on their Back


October 30, 2001


Most parents know that the safest way to put their baby to sleep is on their back. Babies who sleep on their backs are much less likely to die of the Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).


Babies who always sleep with their head to the same side can develop flat spots. This handout tells you how to prevent this from happening.


What is SIDS?


SIDS is when a baby dies suddenly and unexpectedly·for no clear reason, even after an investigation. Babies who die of SIDS are usually under a year old. SIDS is sometimes called crib death.


Why do some babies develop flat spots on their head?


Babies skulls are very soft, and the bones can be affected by pressure. Babies also have weak neck muscles. Because of this, they tend to turn their head to one side when placed on their back.


If babies always turn their head to the same side, the skull may flatten. This is known as a 'flat head'. The medical term for this is positional plagiocephaly.


A little bit of flattening goes away on its own. More serious flattening may be permanent, but it will not affect a baby·s brain or development.


Can a baby's flat head be prevented?


Yes. A simple way to prevent your baby from getting a flat head is to change the position of the baby's head each day.


Because babies like to have something interesting to look at, they tend to turn their head toward the room rather than toward the wall. This way they can see you as you come and go.


Here's how you can change the position of your baby·s head while
still giving them the same view:

  • One day, place your baby with their head at the head of the crib.
  • The next day, place your baby with their head at the foot of the crib.
  • Each day, alternate your baby's position in the crib.
  • Check to make sure that your baby is always looking out into the room.
  • You might also put a mobile on the side of the crib facing the room to encourage your baby to look that way.

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What else can I do to prevent my baby getting a flat head?

  • Babies should also have supervised ·tummy time· when they are awake, several times a day.
  • Not only will time on its tummy help prevent a flat spot on its head, but it is important for your baby·s development.
  • If your baby still develops flat spots, talk to your paediatrician or family physician.

What else can I do to help reduce the risk of SIDS?

  • The most important thing you can do to reduce the risk of SIDS is placing your baby on their back to sleep. You should also:
    • Make sure that nobody smokes around your baby.
    • Avoid putting too many clothes and covers on your baby
    • Breastfeed your baby, It may give some protection against SIDS.

For more information:


Health Canada:

SIDS Foundation:

Caring for Kids (Canadian Paediatric Society):


This information was developed by the Canadian Paediatric Society
in collaboration with the Canadian Association for the Study of Infant Deaths,
the Canadian Institute of Child Health, and Health Canada.


May be reproduced without permission and shared with patients and their families.


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