Stop Flat Head for Your Newborn


Could your Baby Get a Flat Spot?

You try to provide the best care possible for your newborn, and you work hard to keep your baby well fed, clothed, and rested.  There’s a surprising problem that you may not know about — babies who develop a flat spot on the back of their head.

This problem is more common than you think.  Two-month-old healthy Canadian babies were examined for head shape.  More than than 47% had some flattening at the back of their heads!  In a related study we found similar results in an online study of babies from various countries —  35%. Such flattening, known as plagiocephaly, is usually mild, but in some cases can be severe.  Why is this happening?

It’s an Unexpected Consequence of SIDS Prevention

About 30 years ago an Australian researcher, Susan Beals, found a link between babies’ sleeping on their stomachs and the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).  Sleeping on the tummy was more dangerous.  Beals’ research led to public health campaigns that encouraged parents to sleep their babies on their backs.  Most have followed this advice, and the number of sudden infant deaths has been halved in many countries.  Hurray!

Parents avoidance of stomach-sleeping meant that many babies are spending most of their time lying on their backs, even when they’re awake.  In the first months a baby’s skull is very soft, and it can be moulded by external pressure.  If a baby is lying on their back on a firm surface, there is pressure on the back of their skull.  Too much back-lying can lead to flattening at the back of the head.

Prevent a Flat Spot on Your Baby’s Head

The good news is that you can do something to stop flat head. Watch this video and learn about simple baby care practices that will vary your baby’s head position.  Moreover, you can take these steps at home, and they’re free.  It’s important, though, that you start as soon as possible.


Developmental milestone defined

developmental milestone owes its name to early highway signs along the roadside that told you how far you had to go. They were called mileposts or milestones and, as their names suggest, they displayed the distance in miles to the center of a city or town.  These early highway signs provided a nice metaphor for development because the same two attributes of distance and location can nicely describe development.  The developmental reference location is birth, and the unit of measurement is years, months, or weeks of age.

Roadside mile marker


One-way street

Developmentally, milestone carries a sense that travel is in one direction and away from birth.  This is how chronological age is understood.  There is no going back — except in time-travel movies and books.  Milestone has a narrower meaning than chronological age because milestone generally refers to the first time that some new aspect of development appears.  For example, a baby who takes his first steps without help is usually thought to have reached the walking milestone.  Of course, she may walk unassisted many times thereafter, but the milestone is that first occurrence.

Salience counts

There are many firsts for a child, but only some get referred to as milestones.  Why?  Partly it is a matter of salience, or how noticeable an achievement is.  Rolling over is hard to miss, so it appears on nearly every list of milestones.  On the other hand, rocking back an forth on hands and knees is not usually listed as a milestone, though it could be.  Of course, salience is partly in the eye of the beholder.  A more knowledgeable observer will notice developmental events that an untrained observer will not.

The more the merrier

The term milestones used to be reserved for events that were deemed ‘universal’ and experienced by everyone.  In truth, virtually no developmental event is experienced by everyone.  For example, the majority of babies use hands-and-knees crawling, but not all of them do.  It’s better to consider as milestones those developmental events that are very common, ubiquitous, or near-universal.

Events that matter

Lastly, a developmental event that is called a milestone is usually judged to be important for some reason.  Walking, for example, is highly important because it has a huge impact on the child’s mobility.  Better mobility, in turn, changes one’s perspective on the world.

Developmental milestone defined

Developmental milestones are near-universal age-related events whose first appearance signals noteworthy change or growth.


When do babies start crawling?

baby crawling on hands and feet
Baby doing the bear crawl

You would think this is an easy question to answer.  It’s not, for several reasons.

First, crawling can mean different things.  Does only hands-and-knees crawling count?  What about the soldier crawl, where babies never get their stomachs off the ground?  Consider the bear crawl  — where the hands and feet are used, but the knees don’t touch the ground?    Some babies will crawl in all these ways.  Other babies will seem to skip crawling entirely. Infants are very inventive in how they first move from one place to another.  This makes it hard to establish a single definition and norm.

Second, when researchers study milestones in more than one culture, they often find differences. For example, early cross-cultural studies reported that African babies reached motor milestones earlier than European infants. Such results suggest that various environmental and genetic factors influence when babies reach a milestone.  One such influence is whether or not a baby was born before or after the due date.  Prematurely born babies will likely crawl later than born-on-time babies.

There is no single answer to the question about when babies will first crawl. It depends. But we are only beginning to understand on what.  A good answer to the question would require thousands of parents from around the world who would be willing to keep careful records of their baby’s milestones accomplishments.  Researchers could then link the babies’ characteristics and life circumstances to when they reached particular milestones like hands-and-knees crawling.

Infant development and crowdsourcing

Infant development and the Oxford English Dictionary

We believe parents have much to add to knowledge about infant development.  How?  Through collaboration, which now has a fancy hi-tech name, crowdsourcing.  The idea of crowdsourcing goes back more than 160 years to the development of the the Oxford English Dictionary.  In his book The Professor and the Madman, which is partly about the OED, Simon Winchester tells two intertwined stories. One is about the first editor, who used the help of thousands of volunteers to obtain examples of English word usage.  From their examples, he compiled definitions that became the OED.  One of his most prolific volunteers turned out to be a clinically insane murderer. It’s a fascinating true story about redemption and one of the first uses of crowdsourcing.

Crowdsourcing baby milestones information

Here at the Milestones Study Centre, we use crowdsourcing to create new knowledge about infant development.  Parents from around the world contribute details about their babies’ milestone attainments in our surveys.  From their contributions, we can learn new things about how baby’s develop.

Both parties benefit from this crowdsourcing.  We improve our understanding about what matters for healthy infant development.  Parents become more aware of their baby’s development, which is fun.

Good things can emerge from the collaboration of crowdsourcing.  It was successful for the OED, and it may be successful for improving our knowledge about the varieties of infant development.