The FDA is warning that babies can suffocate to death if parents try to use head-shaping pillows to prevent or treat flat spots.
“Do not use infant head shaping pillows due to the risk of sudden unexpected infant death,” including Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), suffocation, and death, according to the FDA.
Flat head pillows “are not safe or effective for preventing or treating flat head syndrome,” the FDA warned. Furthermore, there are no head-shaping pillows that are FDA-approved for any medical purpose.
Flat head pillows, also called head-shaping pillows, are being advertised and sold in major stores like Target and Amazon.com by companies who claim it will help treat or prevent flat spots on a baby’s head. The condition is technically called plagiocephaly.
Flat head syndrome became quite common after the “Safe to Sleep” campaign taught parents to always put a baby to sleep on its back to reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
The rate of SIDS plummeted by 50% after the campaign, but because babies have soft skulls and they were spending so much time on their back, it became common for babies to develop flat spots on their skull.
Unlike SIDS, flat spots are harmless and usually go away on their own by the time a child is a few years old. But in recent years, companies have sprung up to sell parents special head-shaping pillows, claiming that these devices are safe and will prevent or treat a baby’s flat spots.
Flat head pillows look like small mats with an indent or a hole in the middle, which cradles the baby’s head. Some products are rectangular, oval, heart-shaped, or look like a misshapen donut with animal ears.
The problem is that babies can suffocate if they are able to twist onto their side, or roll over from their back to their stomach, and get trapped with their face pressed up against the pillow’s fabric or memory foam.
If the crib is cluttered with other unsafe objects, like blankets or crib bumpers, infants could suffocate between the pillow and other objets.
The Safe to Sleep experts recommend that babies should always be put to sleep on their back in a safe sleep space, such as a crib or bassinet, with a firm and flat surface, and no pillows or other objects in the crib.