It’s probably not by sheer luck that you are here and there is a likelihood that your doctor or other clinical advisor recommended a helmet for your baby. This is a safe haven for you!
A baby helmet for plagiocephaly or brachycephaly is not like any other helmet. Although it could help to protect your child’s head from bumps its more useful for “directed growth”.
The main aim of the helmet is to allow remodeling of the skull to a more round and symmetrical shape. This in the medical field is referred to as “normalcephaly”. A little bit of asymetrical shape is actually considered within normal limits, but it is usually when a child’s head has a moderate or severe case of deformation that a baby helmet is requested.
What Causes Plagiocephaly?
Plagiocephaly (flat spots on baby’s head) can be distressing for many parents as they think that this is something they have done to their child. Some even think about what they could have done to avoid those pesky flat spots. The fact is, almost no one has a perfectly round and symmetrical head.
However, if your baby’s flat spot is larger (clinically described as moderate or severe), it’s because the head is softer during periods of growth and the child is spending perhaps too much time in one supine sleeping position. Other reasons for skull deformation might be due to the baby moving through the birth canal, or perhaps the baby is drawn to the light in a bedroom and they fall asleep in this position repeatedly.
While adults have a more rigid skull, bones in babies are flexible and can allow some degree of change. Molding (the change in the shape of the skull) allows the baby to easily traverse the birth canal and gives room for the brain to grow. This also means that continuous pressure on the skull can change its appearance if not treated early.
How Positionally Plagiocephaly or Brachycephaly Can Be Treated?
Generally, if positional plagiocephaly is diagnosed early, it takes a shorter period to treat and achieve effective head shape symmetry.
Typically repositioning of the child’s head is the first mode of treatment up to about the four month mark. Many babies grow out of their “flat spots” during this time but definitely not all.
It’s recommended that babies should start wearing a helmet at a later age i.e. 4-18 months. If the treatment starts later, babies can still wear a helmet but the duration of the treatment will increase. Helmets cannot be used when bone mineralization is complete. Meaning the sutures are more fused. At about the 18th month mark (usually the time in which all cranial remolding helmets (CROs) cease treatment) is because the head slows its rate of growth. Moreover, the helmet treatment ceases at this time marker as well because a child can remove the helmet more readily by themselves.
Is your baby too old for a helmet?
The consensus is that a helmet can successfully treat flat spots if your baby is still younger than a year old. These cranial deformations (plagiocephaly, scaphocephaly or brachycephaly) require the use of a helmet to remold the head of your baby. Remember that baby’s skull is malleable, which means the skull bones move more easily than they do in adulthood, thus making them good candidates for wearing a helmet. However, it is vital to discuss with your doctor to find the best recommendations for your child. The rate of growth however between the months of 12-18 is much slower and a parent starting at 12 months of age for their child might see less correction than if they started at the fourth month.
Also, children who have been through endoscopy, to correct craniosynostosis, are sometimes prescribed a helmet post their surgery to promote the remodeling of the head. This is a different kind of helmet for a child, but still can be referred to as a “baby helmet”.
An orthotist will scan your baby’s head shape using a laser light scanner or take a plaster mold of your child’s neurocranium. From these impressions an orthotist can fabricate a custom helmet that fits your child extremely well.
Currently, plaster molding is being phased out but it still provides a very accurate shape of your child’s head when done by a licensed orthotist.
Often times, helmets are designed with an inner foam lining that may require to be re-sized as the baby grows. Some have minimal padding based off of the needs of the child.
How Long Does Treatment Last?
It depends on the severity of the deformation and the time the helmet is initiated. From 4-6 months a child’s head can grown 1 cm each month. After that the rate of growth slows to 1/2 cm per month up until 12 months. This directed growth is required to reshape the child’s skull.
Initially, the baby will have less time in a helmet but eventually when your baby adapts to it fully, it should be worn for 23 hours each day. Correction can take several months and as the child grows, the helmet will have to be refitted or adjusted occasionally to keep changing their head shape.
Please avoid the talk that most children get more than one helmet. This is not true and it is our impression that if companies do this on a regular basis it often times a financial decision on the side of the business or the practitioner does not know what they are doing.
Having Second Thoughts About Getting a Baby Helmet?
As parents, it’s very natural to develop cold feet knowing that your baby will be wearing a helmet, at the same time you need to know that it is essential for your baby. Get creative. Decorate it. Make it a fun form of treatment and don’t look back.
Obviously get more opinions if needed. Check in on facebook as their are many support groups there and you can read the comments from parents that have no financial incentives.
You will see that many of them say “Go for it!” And other uplifting comments like “Before you know it, your little one will be out of the helmet!”