The newborn skull is designed for childbirth and brain development. It is not a single unit but is made up of several bones separated by flexible joints called sutures. During childbirth, the sutures permit the skull to flex as the baby exits from the mother’s womb. Growth of the brain in infancy is explosive. Sutures, acting as expansion joints, allow the skull to accommodate the enlarging brain. When a suture fails to expand or becomes prematurely fused, the condition is known as craniosynostosis (cranium brain + syn together + os bone).
Depending on the suture involved, the head can be flattened and wide or elongated and narrow. Facial bones are connected to the skull; hence, craniosynostosis can affect facial appearance as well. Deformities of the forehead or eye socket may result. In some cases of craniosynostosis affecting multiple sutures, inability of the braincase to expand properly causes increased pressure that can affect mental development.
In an attempt to prevent 'SIDS' (sudden infant death syndrome) many pediatricians recommend avoiding tummy sleeping (the 'Back to Sleep' campaign). Unfortunately, prolonged back sleeping can increase the risk of positional skull deformity. This is unrelated to faulty bone fusion and can usually be treated with a molding helmet. True craniosynostosis (bony fusion) requires surgical correction by a craniofacial team.
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