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Surgeon applauds action on head deformities

A New Zealand mother’s compassionate efforts to promote prevention and assist treatment of positional plagiocephaly (flat deformed head) among babies has been applauded by a leading craniofacial specialist and gained international attention from other health professionals.

Positional plagiocephaly occurs when babies heads are flat and deformed as a result of constant pressure on one spot.

In most ‘developed’ countries, (including New Zealand, Australia, United Kingdom, USA), where the “back is best” message had been promoted as a method of reducing the risk of SIDS, the incidence of PWS known as ‘flat head’ has become a concern for many parents, who find that a misshapen head is unacceptable, even if just for cosmetic reasons.

Placing a baby’s head on alternate sides at each sleep, turning cots around and increased ‘tummy time’ works for some babies, but for approximately 30% of babies it does not. The younger the baby, the softer the head. Babies often tend to revert to one favourite head position during sleep, particularly where a flat spot has already begun to develop.

Craniofacial Plastic Surgeon Dr Tristan de Chalain said that, while it was best to keep young babies on the back, it was important to ensure varied head positions. This is not always easy to achieve.

He praised the work of Community worker,  mother, early pioneer of positive parenting ,long term advocate for safe baby sleep and the inventor, developer of the Safe T Sleep Sleepwrap ,Miriam Rutherford-van Gisbergen.  Both in assisting with treatment through education and practical methods to prevent and/or correct flat/deformed heads and with medical papers and workshops she has presented on this and other safer sleeping issues.

“ Specialist referrals of concerned parents for their baby’s PWS remain an ongoing concern and seem on the increase again as my on- referrals from craniofacial Specialists to me are definitely increasing,” says Miriam.

Many families find the idea of their baby having to be hospital - fitted to wear an orthotic helmet as a treatment option an unnatural, unacceptable discomfort and trauma and often seek alternate options.

“Any degree of asymmetry in head shape may have a lasting impact on a child’s self esteem and quality of life,” said Miriam.

As a result, Dr Tristan DeChalain and other (New Zealand) Craniofacial plastic surgeons have referred numerous patients dealing with the problem to Miriam. Her brief was to help to achieve effective counter-positioning during sleep, keeping pressure off the flat spot and thereby helping correct the deformity, while still meeting SIDS requirements to keep young babies off tummies when sleeping.

Many families have been assisted to successfully re-position their babies.  Using Miriam’s trust and confidence  building skills, practical suggestions, the Surgeon’s instructions, the Safe T Sleep Sleepwrap and Head Wedge products to help maintain the required sleep position, many parents have been helped.

The results have been significant, with all babies showing improvement in head shape, avoiding the need for orthotic “helmets” and in two cases avoiding surgery. 

“Unbelievably, right now in most ‘developed’ countries a significant number of babies are being fitted , in hospitals, with helmets!” observes Miriam.

“While early intervention can result in rapid improvement in head shape, with the right techniques prevention is readily achievable and is by far the best option,” she said.

The developments have prompted growing interest from a range of health professionals. Miriam Rutherford-van Gisbergen was invited to present information based on her work and the findings of international research on developments in positional plagiocephaly to an international conference of child and paediatric health nurses in Sydney, Australia and to the New Zealand College of Midwives conference in Dunedin, New Zealand.

Ms Rutherford believes that while SIDS prevention messages are very important ones for parents and health professionals to be aware of, sleep safety could involve a broader range of issues, including: positional plagiocephaly; injuries from cot, bed and bunk falls (still accounting for nearly one in seven 0-2 year olds hospitalized due to falls); and positional asphyxia/suffocation (more than 90%of deceased infants are found with their heads covered).!!

One of the main safe sleep messages worldwide is : ‘Keep baby’s face and head clear’ and the Safe T Sleep Sleepwrap is a safe and proven way to do this.

“We can all strive to have healthy, live, young babies plus ensure a lovely head shape and also ensure safer sleeping for our toddlers.  That is the least we can do for our young,” says Miriam.

Since it’s conception in 1976 and delivery onto the world market in 1992 , hundreds of thousands of babies have slept safely with the Safe T Sleep Sleepwrap and little HEADwedge. 100% safety with no fatalities or cot injuries. 

Ends

Contacts for further information include:

Julie Rees-Williams – mother of a baby with positional plagiocephaly – Ph. +64 09 414 7673

Miriam Rutherford-van Gisbergen- Educator and Safe T SleepÔ inventor – Ph 09 299 7589 or 021736 645

Dr Tristan deChalain – Craniofacial Surgeon, Middlemore Hospital – Ph. 09 276 1999

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