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Deformational plagiocephaly in normal infants: a systematic review of causes and hypotheses
  1. Freia De Bock1,2,
  2. Volker Braun3,
  3. Herbert Renz-Polster1
  1. 1Mannheim Institute of Public Health, Social and Preventive Medicine, University Medicine Mannheim, Heidelberg University, Mannheim, Germany
  2. 2Centre for Child Neurology, Frankfurt am., Germany
  3. 3University Library, University Medicine Mannheim, Medical faculty Mannheim, Heidelberg University, Mannheim, Germany
  1. Correspondence to Priv Doz Dr Freia De Bock,Mannheim Institute of Public Health, Social and Preventive Medicine, Medical Faculty Mannheim, Heidelberg University, Ludolf-Krehl-Strasse 7-11, Mannheim 68167, Germany; freia.debock{at}


Background Deformational plagiocephaly (DP) is one of the most prevalent abnormal findings in infants and a frequent reason for parents to seek paediatric advice.

Objective To systematically review the literature and identify evidence and hypotheses on the aetiology and determinants of DP in otherwise healthy infants.

Design Systematic keyword search in all major biomedical databases to identify peer-reviewed publications reporting (a) empirical research or (b) hypotheses on the aetiology of DP in healthy, term infants. 3150 studies published between 1985 and 2016 and containing relevant keywords were screened. In a two-pronged approach, results were summarised separately for the body of empirical work (22 studies) and the body of hypotheses (110 articles).

Review findings Only a few empirical studies have examined risk factors in non-selected patient populations on a higher grade methodological level. The most commonly reported risk factors were: male gender, supine sleep position, limited neck rotation or preference in head position, first-born child, lower level of activity and lack of tummy time. Agreement between empirical studies was poor for most exposures, including supine sleep position, tummy time and use of car seats. The articles reporting hypotheses on the aetiology of DP cover a wide field of environmental and biological factors, but include little suggestions as to the potential influence of the everyday care environment of the baby.

Conclusions and relevance The evidence on the aetiology of DP is fragmentary and heterogeneous. In addition, factors possibly relevant to the development of DP have not been appreciated in the scientific discussion.

  • deformational plagiocephaly
  • positional plagiocephaly
  • supine sleep position
  • systematic review
  • etiology

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  • Contributors FDB designed the study and conceptualised the methods, drafted the Methods section, reviewed in detail all other sections of the manuscript and approved the final manuscript as submitted. FDB had full access to all the data in the study and takes responsibility for the integrity of the data and the accuracy of the data analysis. VB designed the search strategy, performed the searches in all databases, reviewed the manuscript and approved the final manuscript as submitted. HR-P conceptualised the study, extracted the data (supported by Juliane Klein and Janina Beckmann; see acknowledgements), drafted the main manuscript, reviewed the Methods section and approved the final manuscript as submitted.

  • Funding Internal (institutional) funding; no support from external sources.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.