Friday, February 14, 2014

Plagiocephaly: everything new is well forgotten old.

There was a time when absolutely all babies used to sleep on their backs. The practice of placing babies on their backs started most likely at the time when people did not know how to write. It was a tradition. Why do traditions exist? Apparently only for one reason: to change them. Placing babies to sleep on the back did not escape the challenge of time and several decades ago someone decided that the best position for babies to sleep was on their bellies. That was a change, revolutionary in its courage and boldness, not as revolutionary as the polio vaccine, but still, it was something.

It turned out that our grandparents, and great grandparents, and before them Moses, and before him, Sarah and Abraham were correct placing their babies on the backs. Maybe they have known something we discovered not so long ago - that belly sleeping was often responsible for sudden infant death. Following this re-discovery “back to sleep” campaign was started and in a mere decade, it almost succeeded. Nowadays most nurses and doctors do their best trying to change the bad habits of their patient’s parents. Not all nurses and doctors succumbed to changing their views because bad habits tend to be very resilient. This resistance to change is reinforced by the discovery of a “new” disease called “plagiocephaly”.

Plagiocephaly is the molding of the baby’s naturally soft skull caused by the pressure of sleeping in one position. Since the “back to sleep” campaign required placing babies on their backs, many babies developed flattened backs of their heads. This new disease epidemic caused enormous alarm among pediatricians. A new industry sprang up to deal with it and a score of companies began manufacturing helmets to treat plagiocephaly.

If the same pediatricians asked their grandmothers, or opened old, really old, text book written while then their grandparents were young they could have made an astonishing discovery that plagiocephaly is as old as the world, that head deformities go away once babies begin to roll and to sit and that using helmets is a waste of money and it works as well as time itself.

Sergei Shushunov, MD