Live

Watch CBSN Live

Parents Of Newborns Beware

Since 1992, the American Academy of Pediatrics has been advising parents to put newborn babies to sleep on their backs. While the result has been a dramatic decrease in the case of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, or SIDS, there has been an increase in the number of babies with misshapen heads, reports CBS News Investigative Correspondent Roberta Baskin.

Earlier this year, Baskin reported how surgery was being used, sometimes unnecessarily, to remedy the problem. In fact, she found that surgery rarely is the answer. But too many infants with flattened heads are misdiagnosed with a rare medical condition for which surgery is the only answer.

For newborns with flat heads, the simple solution in most cases is to put the baby's head in different positions. In more severe cases, a molding band can reshape the head.

Heather and Bill Lang of Naperville, Ill., were typical parents, overjoyed when their son Connor was born, but worried three months later when the shape of his head just didn't look right.

"We saw the left side of his face flattening and that eye not opening as much as the right side," Bill Lang says. "And then we started noticing his ears out of alignment. And then it got to the point where we started noticing the back of his head bulging out and his head taking an asymmetrical look."

Then Bill saw CBS News' investigation in January about the rise in babies with misshapen heads. The report set off a warning bell.

"I said, 'You know, it might not correct itself from rolling over and changing position like everybody says it will. Better get him to a doctor,'" Bill recalls.

Heather and Bill took their son to their pediatrician, who diagnosed him with craniosynostosis, a rare condition in which a baby's skull bones fuse together too soon, limiting the growth of the brain and creating an abnormally shaped head.

"They said, 'Well, it would require surgery.' [They] would have to go in, and they'd cut his head. And I'm like, 'Cut his head?' And I just started crying. And they said, 'Well, he'll grow hair.' You know, like, 'It'll be okay, 'cause his scar will be covered, and he'll grow hair. And so I was just panic-stricken," Heather says.

On the very night that Connor was to be he sedated for a CAT scan, Bill took the advice we gave during the report and tracked down the opinion of a specialist.

Dr. Bruce Bauer, who heads plastic surgery at Children's Memorial Hospital in Chicago took one look at Connor and knew he didn't need the CAT scan or the surgery.

"The shape of his head is absolutely classic for a molded type head," Bauer says.

Bauer has seen an increasing number of infants with misshapen heads.

"There are certainly places where people are less aware of the typical changes that one sees with just the positional change in the head, and as a result of that, there are children who are operated on who shouldn't be," he says.

Bauer's prescrption was a simple molding ban that works like braces, reshaping the head. The device costs about $3,000, compared to the surgery, which can cost about $50,000.

In just a month, Connor's head showed a dramatic improvement. In fact, he's only expected to need the band for one more month. Bill and Heather are grateful to have avoided a dangerous operation, and eager to give advice to others.

"You can't expect your pediatrician to know everything," Bill says. "You have to go out there and educate yourself on a lot of things."

"Educate yourself, and just, please, get a second opinion. Don't put your child through surgery that could be unnecessary," Heather adds.

The Langs have educated their pediatrician on the molding band so that other parents won't have to go through the same scare that they did.

While it's important to put newborns on their backs because it does prevent SIDS, parents need to also avoid flattening the back of the head. To prevent this, babies should be put on different sides each time they are put in their crib and they should get plenty of time lying on their stomachs when they are awake.

Parents who suspect their child is developing a misshapen head, should get check with their pediatrician first, and get a second opinion from a specialist in this area -- a cranio-facial surgeon.

Reported By Roberta Baskin