My four month old son was diagnosed with Torticollis and Plagiocephaly. It sounds way scarier than what it is. Essentially he has a misshapen head and a large flat spot or indent on the back of his head (plageocephally) or baby flat head syndrome. His neck is also very tight on one side (Torticollis) which means he has a limited range of motion causing a slight tilt and preference to lean to one side. For the past two months, my son has been rounding out his head with the help of a baby helmet. My hope is this article can help ease the uncertainty for parents who are just beginning their helmet journey.
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Why Do Babies Need Helmets?
The baby helmet is used to reshape and remold a baby’s head to become more rounded and symmetrical. The process is simple and straightforward. Wear the helmet 23 hours a day and the reshaping should take 3-4 months.
Lots of people have misconceptions about what causes flat head syndrome in babies. Infants typically aren’t in helmets because they are banging their head against the crib. There is typically nothing wrong mentally with babies in helmets. It doesn’t mean that their parents didn’t hold them enough or they were in their carseat for too long. Many people are ignorant to what a helmet is and does, while others totally get it!
Sad About Baby in a Helmet?
It’s totally normal to feel sad about your baby wearing the helmet, but I promise that it will effect you more than it will them.
Would you be feeling the same sadness if your Dentist told you that your child needed braces on their teeth? Wearing a helmet is really no different than a child needing braces. The main difference is that someone whose parents never corrected their crooked teeth can decide later on in life if they wanted to get braces. Children who need helmets don’t have that option should their head never reshape on their own.
There is a chance that children who have flat spots or misshapen heads will naturally correct itself by age five. There is also a chance that it won’t. The helmet is almost a guaranteed method of reshaping and rounding out your child’s head in a very short period of time.
Aside from cosmetic issues, there are possible long term effects if a child is not helmeted. Not helmeting can result in increased issues such as motor delays, vision issues, balance problems and facial asymmetry according to this article.
12 Things To Remember When Baby Is In A Helmet
If you have made the choice or are trying to decide if a helmet is the best option for your child, here is some advice and things I wish I knew about a cranial helmet and some hacks to help you along your helmeting journey.
1. Getting a Helmet is Time Sensitive-Follow Your Gut EARLY!
My son will be in the helmet for 3-4 months because it was not properly evaluated until he was almost 6 months old. If I would have been persistent with my pediatrician he may have only needed to be in a helmet for 4-8 weeks at the most. The helmet works alongside growth spurts . As the child gets older, the less growth spurts you have to work with. You CAN get a baby helmet put on all the way up until they are 1 year old, however, the older they are when helmeted, the longer amount of time they will need to be in a cranial helmet.
2. It is NOT your fault!
It’s easy to question yourself and wonder if it’s your fault? Did I not hold them enough? Were they in the car seat too often and this is why my babies head is flat? Don’t spend all night googling Rock-and-play flat head, and wondering if you shouldn’t have let them nap in there, because it will be enough to drive you crazy. Plagiocephaly can sometimes happen because of the positioning in the womb. These things just happen. Don’t beat yourself up. All you can do is move forward.
3. Be Persistent With Insurance
Helmets can be very costly and many times insurance companies will not pick up the cost. Make sure your orthosis’ office helps in filling out the appropriate paperwork. If your insurance denies your claim, see if your pediatrician or neurologist’s office will also submit paperwork. At first our insurance would not cover the cost until we filed an appeal. Out of pocket cost of a helmet can be upwards of $4000. Many offices will offer payment plans should your insurance deny you.
4. Can You Prevent a Flat Head On Baby?
There are many options that could help prevent flatness or severity. Discuss options with your doctor such as Physical therapy. This is especially important if your child has Torticollis. I’m convinced that if we would have started physical therapy early, helmeting may have been prevented. We did not start until our son was nearly 4 months old.
They make a device called elephant ears. Check with your pediatrician but these ears can help alleviate pressure on the head and may reduce the risk of flatness while in bouncer seats, car seats, etc. I really WISH I would have know about these way sooner.
Consider a baby pillow for use when baby has to be on their back (again check with pediatrician to make sure these items can be used.)
Start tummy time as early as possible to help prevent flatness. It’s extremely important to place your child on their tummies as often as possible to prevent them from lying on their head. As the baby gets older, use a boppy pillow and prop them up on their tummies.
There is NOT an alternative to reshaping or re-molding a child’s head effectively and speedily without using a helmet. Time does help and in many cases depending on severity the flat spot may resolve itself.
5. The Helmet Smells
Your child will be in a helmet for 23 hours a day. When you pop that thing off, their poor little heads will smell like sweaty gym socks. The helmet needs to be properly cleaned while it’s off. Rubbing alcohol is what most orthotists recommend. We used alcohol wipes (you can find them in your medicine aisle) which were easy and convenient and nice to travel with.
6. Outfit Changes Are Hard
At this age between messy meals, diaper blowouts, and endless teething drool, changing clothes happens often. The helmet is really bulky and I don’t love popping it off every time we have to change clothes. Buy onesies/outfits that you can easily pull on from their legs up or open wide so you can put them over the helmet. I really like these types of onesies as they can be put on from the bottom up.
7. Your Child Will Thank You
Remember that analogy I had about Braces and a helmet at the beginning of this article? I HATED wearing my braces, but now that I am adult I thank my mom often for making me get them in those awkward teen years. As long as you follow the orthotists’ steps the helmet will be a temporary period of your child’s life. Chances are your child will never ever remember the time in the helmet except for the cool pictures you show them later in life. They will thank you that their baseball cap fits evenly, and they did not end up having vision or hearing problems later on in life.
8. People May Stare
Before I had children, I was ignorant and had no idea the purpose of the helmet. The more and more people become educated the less invasive questions you’ll get in public. I have been extremely surprised by how supportive strangers have been and how they have wanted to share stories about children they know in helmets. I’ve mostly gotten “Why isn’t it decorated, yet” or “Oh my gosh look at that little cutie, my granddaughter wore a helmet too!”
9. Find Support
There are TONS of Facebook groups out there that offer support. It’s nice to connect with parents who are going through the same thing. It’s also a fantastic real time resource if you have questions or want to share your story.
10. It’s Harder On You
I promise the entire journey will be harder on you than it is on them. My son has been completely unbothered by the helmet. I’m confident that besides the embarrassing pictures I force him to take with his sister, he will never remember the time in his helmet.
11. Embrace The Helmet
My biggest regret is that we went with plain white for his helmet. I had every intention of getting these cute stickers from Etsy to decorate the helmet but never executed the plan. If you have a girl they make the CUTEST helmet bows I have ever seen. Also in order to get the whole family involved, I bought my older toddler daughter a helmet of her own that she could wear to show support for her brother. Embrace the helmet in every way you can.
12. Celebrate When It’s Over
The time your child in a helmet will go much faster than you think. When the doctor gives you the go ahead to take the helmet off, celebrate with a party! I’ve seen so many babies in my Helmet Facebook group celebrating with balloons and a diploma.
So Now What?
You will move on with life. Things will go on as normal. Your child’s head will become more rounded. The Helmet will be off before you know it. It will all be over faster than you think!
If you have questions or want to share your child’s experience with a a cranial helmet please let us know in the comments. For more information check out Starband Kids for the specific helmet we used.