Parents worried about their newborn baby developing a flat head are potentially putting their child at risk of sudden death, a new study has found.
Australian researchers have found parents are ignoring the Sudden Infant Death Syndrome guidelines and are using pillows and dangerous sleeping positions to prevent plagiocephaly, also known as flat head syndrome.
Plagiocephaly is a condition characterised by a flattening of one side of the skull. It is caused by remaining in a lying position for too long.
The number of children with flat head syndrome, also known as misshapen head, has risen significantly in recent years and has been "swamping" the health system, in part due to SIDS guidelines which began in 1992.
Under the guidelines, parents are advised to place their babies on their backs to sleep.
But alarm has been raised as it seems parents are more concerned about flat head syndrome and will do anything to prevent it - even if it means going against SIDS guidelines, said Associate Professor Alexandra Martiniuk from The George Institute in Sydney.
A study of Australian and Canadian mums, dads and grandparents conducted by researchers at the institute found participants worried about plagiocephaly because it could permanently affect their child's looks.
Methods used by the parents in an attempt to prevent a flattening of the head included using a rolled up towel under the mattress or putting toys in the bed on one side.
Some of the participants even believed that a hanging-style basinette would help - a method commonly shared on the internet and among mothers groups.
The study also found there was a common belief that few kids die of SIDS and that many of the parents were confused about the SIDS risk factors.
"They thought that if they weren't smoking in the house, which is one of the risk factors for SIDS, then they were protected, that their child probably wouldn't die of SIDS," said Assoc Prof Martiniuk.
Adding to the confusion are the numerous untested products marketed to prevent flat head, such as pillows.
Dr Martiniuk says there is an urgent need to educate parents about the use of such home approaches because kids still do die of SIDS.
Senior physiotherapist Angela Serong from the Royal Children's Hospital Melbourne says they do not support such pillows or any methods that go against the SIDS guidelines, which are critical to a child's health.
Serong says if parents want to prevent their newborn developing a flat head spending less than five minutes a day on their tummy when awake and supervised is not enough. Throughout the day the newborn needs to spend enough time on their tummy to develop the ability to lift and turn their head to clear their airway.
She says alternating feeding sides and alternating the end of the cot the baby sleeps on are also recommended.
If a flattening of the head is detected then parents should seek professional help from a paediatric physiotherapist.