Objective. During recent years, coincident with the recommendation to position infants supine, the incidence of posterior deformational plagiocephaly has increased dramatically. The purpose of our study was to determine whether early signs of cranial flattening could be detected in healthy neonates and to document incidence and potential risk factors.

Design. A cross-sectional study was performed in healthy newborns. Physical findings, anthropometric cranial measurements, and data on pregnancy and birth were recorded.

Results. The incidence of localized cranial flattening in singletons was 13%; other anomalous head shapes were found in 11% of single-born neonates. In twins, localized flat areas were much more frequent with an incidence of 56%. The following risk factors for cranial deformation were identified: assisted vaginal delivery, prolonged labor, unusual birth position, primiparity, and male gender.

Conclusion. We propose that localized lateral or occipital cranial flattening at birth is a precursor to posterior deformational plagiocephaly. The infant lies supine, with the head turned to the flattened area, and is unable to roll. Intrauterine risk factors for localized cranial flattening are the same as for deformational plagiocephaly. To avoid postnatal progression from a localized cranial flattening to posterior-lateral deformational plagiocephaly, we suggest amending the recommendation of the American Academy of Pediatrics on sleep position: Alternate the head position and allow sleeping on the side and, when awake, supervise prone time.

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