New gel cap used in the NICU to help prevent ‘flat head syndrome’

Most parents already know that babies should sleep on their backs. But, as an important way to prevent infant suffocation, backside snoozing comes with unfortunate complications, including skull deformity.

The problem is worse for premature babies, whose ultra-soft heads can’t withstand the pressure from long-term rest on a flat surface. As a result, their small skulls can flatten and deform over time spent sleeping tummy-up.

“One of the only downsides of sleeping on the back, especially in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), is that babies develop flattening of one side of their skull, resulting in abnormal fusion of the skull bones,” said Mustafa Suterwala, MD, a pediatric neonatal hospitalist on the medical staff at Baylor University Medical Center at Dallas. “Technically, the condition is called plagiocephaly and can potentially cause deformities of the skull and face as well as long-term developmental complications.”

Plagiocephaly affects up to one in two premature infants and up to 30 percent of full-term babies. In the past, special headwear devices helped correct these issues, but only at a later age.

“The effects of gravity combined with environmental constraints can make this condition difficult to prevent,” said Chrysty Sturdivant, PRN, occupational therapist on the medical staff at Baylor Dallas. “It is not only a cosmetic concern, but it can also affect feeding, speech and development as well as pose psychological and social challenges to the family. The result is costly as these infants will go on to require follow-up, therapy and sometimes corrective orthotics.”

Recently, the FDA approved an adjustable liquid-filled headpiece that’s specially made for premature babies. Baylor Scott & White Health’s researchers were the first to test the ‘baby bonnet,’ which helps prevent a newborn’s soft head from flattening.

The new device uses a special kind of gel technology to redistribute pressure on a preemie’s skull that comes from extended periods a baby spends lying down.

The path to FDA approval

As the only site in the country that conducted this research, Baylor Dallas opened the clinical trial in March 2014 to the premature patients in its NICU wing. Through the trial, researchers fitted the bonnet on about 50 babies, aged 30 to 36 weeks old, in six-hour increments. During those six hours, investigators periodically removed the hat and monitored for sores and scalp sweating.

In those tests, the bonnet showed positive results with minimal side effects, leading to the FDA approval. The new device is a welcome addition to NICUs across the country, the researchers said, because previous pressure treatments required a bulky, hard-to-fit helmet for weeks after birth. At some point, Dr. Suterwala said, the bonnet could become a commonly used household product for the crib.

“It could probably be used on babies outside of the NICU,” he said. “But that’s still a couple of years down the line.”

Until that point, the ‘baby bonnets’ will likely start appearing in neonatal units nationwide.

Baylor 2

7 thoughts on “New gel cap used in the NICU to help prevent ‘flat head syndrome’”

  1. Any mom or caregiver can easily use a commercial or homemade wedge or a rolled-up blanket to slightly change a baby’s head position. Most well-informed mom’s I’ve known did it anyway, so the ‘idea’ isn’t new, only the commercialism. I’ve seen the rolled & stitched up blankets, a soft wash cloth, and a cloth diaper used in many hospital nurseries, so the concept is not new. Maybe too many people are just too lazy to take the precaution. Marketing a product to give the same results may make more people aware. …. hopefully.

  2. I am disappointed that this was not available for my grandson,He spent 2 weeks in NICU and still has a flat spot even though he has been fitted for a helmet,now facing 2 surgeries and will not be able to wear his helmet soon,this would be so great for him as he is 6 months and this would still help him so much .
    A concerned Grandma

  3. Out of all the baby buys I bought for my premature (29 weeks) twins the very best was a simple triangular cushion support so they could sleep on their side. Every time they wake for a feed we change the cushion around and it has totally removed the risk of flat head syndrome – so simple but so effective

  4. Neat idea, but in the Level II NICU I worked in, we were allowed to position the babies on their sides and/or on their abdomens as long as they were on C&A monitors – which they were, at all times, when they were there. Therefore, they weren’t laying only on the backs of their heads for extended periods of time.

  5. My baby is a preterm I had her at week 28 n she stayed at nicu for 2months.she is close to 2years now but cannot still sit unsupported falling backwards n side ways.she also can stand while holding hands on couch.although she is on physiotherapy.she is very intelligent n social. Dr said it could be as a result of oxygen not bin able to get to some part of d brain but she will be fine n by d time she starts walking that her walk might not be very smooth.
    Pls. Ways ur take on dis n wat other advice can I get from u from experience n testimonies?
    Waiting for any related writeup that can be of help

  6. Awesome! I was a nurse in a NICU and saw many babies develop plagiocephaly, both premature and full term. I also worked in an early intervention program, seeing babies birth to three after leaving the NICU and with the result of plagiocephaly, helmets were ordered. They are expensive, uncomfortable, and depending on the family, many were never worn. This is great and I hope this works out that it can not only be utilized in the NICU, but also in the homes!!

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New gel cap used in the NICU to help prevent ‘flat head syndrome’