Why My Baby Is Wearing a Helmet

I’m sure you’ve seen the cute babies in the white helmets or even a bedazzled one here and there, but do you actually know what they are and why they are being worn? Truth be told, I had seen them around and just hoped that my child would never have to wear one. Why? It just seemed to be such a pain to make a baby wear a hot, uncomfortable helmet all day, plus it did attract stares and questions.

When my first son was under a year old, I was hypersensitive about any flatness on his head and obsessively asked the pediatrician about it. Although he did experience some minor flatness from sleeping on his back {because back is best, right?}, it eventually got better once he was sitting up more often. Fast forward to my second son … although I was more confident in a little flatness being normal, his head appeared extra wide to me, even from day one. And yes, he had a little flatness in the back – but nothing too severe. Surely he didn’t need a helmet, right? Especially since we did everything by the book just like his brother, with a now perfect noggin!

I brought it up to our pediatrician several times, but the consensus was to keep an eye on it and see if it improves. At his six month appointment we were encouraged to do a free consultation at Cranial Technologies, a local DOC band company, where it was determined that he did in fact need to wear a helmet to correct his head width and the moderate flatness of the back of his head, otherwise known as brachycephaly. He currently wears his helmet 23 hours a day – one hour is out of the band in order to bathe Colin and clean the helmet. He has been in it about 3 months and has about 1-2 months left to go.

Although we often get tons of questions and concerned looks from strangers, our experience has been nothing short of great. If your child is going to wear a DOC band or similar device, or if you are just simply curious, I’m going to share the process of wearing the band, why it is needed, some common misconceptions, and finally, how to bling it out and make it your own!

What You Need to Know About Baby Helmets | Houston Moms Blog

>> BABY HELMET BASICS <<

What Does the Helmet Actually Do?

Helmets are worn to correct the shape of your baby’s head, often referred to as “flat head syndrome.” They can treat the following conditions typically between the ages of 3-18 months:

  • Plagiocephaly :: head is flat on one side, or appears to be uneven or skewed to one side
  • Brachycephaly :: head is wider than normal, back of head is flat, head may be widest above ears
  • Scaphocephaly :: head is longer, taller, and/or narrower than normal

In each case, the head can be classified on a scale from normal, mild, moderate, or severe.  The moderate+ cases are recommended for treatment. The actual helmet has areas where “holds” will take place {aka the head will not grow in that direction} and then space in other places where you want the head to form. In our case, the holds were on the sides above his ears and front of the head and the additional space was the in back of his head. In just one month, we could already see a difference in the back where it was starting to round out and grow.  It’s pretty amazing to see!

The helmet is not painful or uncomfortable to wear. I was amazed at how lightweight and cool it is – it weighs less than 6 ounces! Colin was remarkably fine with it the instant we put in on and has slept normally with it on, even from day one.  He doesn’t mess with it, pull on it, or try to take it off. Seamless.

Causes of Condition & Common Misconceptions

There are multiple factors that can cause the head to form in these ways. The biggest misconception is that a baby gets a flat head from not being held enough or from particular devices like swings and bouncers. There are actually several factors that can play a role, including:

  • Premature Birth :: A premature baby has an especially soft skull, and they may be in a fixed position for an extended period of time while in the NICU, placing direct pressure on the head.
  • Baby’s Position in the Womb :: Pressure may be placed on the head depending on their positioning. This is common among multiples where womb space is limited.
  • Torticollis :: Tight neck muscles can limit head movement, causing it to tilt to one side which causes pressure on the same area of the head.
  • Carriers and Devices :: While using a carrier or baby device won’t be the sole cause, they do apply pressure on the head especially if used for an extended period.
  • Back Sleeping :: As we’ve all been told since the 90s, “back is best;” however, this preferred sleeping position while decreasing SIDS cases does increase plagiocephaly cases.

So if all babies sleep on their backs as recommended for SIDS prevention, why do some develop a flat head and others do not? A lot of it has to do with how they like to sleep throughout the night. For instance, both of my boys slept on their backs, but my first turned to his to the side while on his back and turned it throughout the night so there wasn’t direct pressure on one spot. My second child slept very straight and did not turn his head much. And trust me, both had the same amount of time in carriers, car seats, and other devices, and both had a love/hate relationship with tummy time – yet only one needed a band!

Why Seek Treatment?

People often think that the helmet is merely a cosmetic fix for a flat head that hair would later cover up, but there’s actually more to it. Skull abnormalities are associated with larger medical issues down the line. In Colin’s case with his head being abnormally wide, it was brought to our attention that later on in life he may deal with headgear like helmets, hats, or even eyeglasses not fitting properly. And with the terrible eyes that I have, it’s pretty much a given that glasses are in his future!  Other issues may include sleep apnea, jaw misalignment, and noticeable facial asymmetry.

My husband and I came to the conclusion that 4-5 months in a little helmet {that he won’t even remember} far outweighed the possible implications down the road. We didn’t want to risk it and kick ourselves later for not trying to prevent something larger.

Prevention

As you can see, there are many factors that are totally out of our control. What we can control is the time spent with pressure applied to the same amount of your baby’s head … to a certain degree. {I certainly wasn’t going to wake my sleeping baby to adjust his head every night.} The best thing to do is speak to your pediatrician. Physical therapy can be ordered if you child has been diagnosed with torticollis, and at-home exercises will likely be recommended too. You can try to limit the amount of time your child is in a carrier, like their infant seat, swings, and bouncers. Make sure you are introducing tummy time to give the back of their head a rest and to strengthen those muscles. We made the mistake of telling a clinician at our DOC Band appointment that Colin just doesn’t like tummy time, and we were told that he doesn’t like it because he’s not getting enough of it. {Cue mommy guilt, and we did better!}  There are even repositioning techniques that you can do to encourage head movement, such as changing baby’s nursing position, moving the crib, and working with your baby at diaper changes and awake times. There is also a repositioning beanie called a Tortle Cap that can be worn for prevention!  Again, all of this needs to be done under the consent and supervision of your child’s treating pediatrician. I may be a lot of things, but an MD is not one of them!

>> THE PROCESS <<

I’m sure everyone will have a unique experience, so please make sure you are following the advice of your pediatrician and clinic that is caring for your child. This will just give you an idea of what you can expect…

Step 1 – Initial Consultation

We attended an hour-long initial consultation where our son was evaluated. They measured his head, took quick 3D pictures, and then showed us images of his head and before/afters of other cases. All of our questions were answered, and we were walked through the next steps if we chose to move forward.

What You Need to Know About Baby Helmets | Houston Moms Blog

Step 2 – Approvals and Measurements

After our initial consultation, the insurance department started the approval process. We had to submit a script from our pediatrician and a letter stating how we have been doing re-positioning to try and self-correct. A few days later, we were given the approval and out of pocket expenses. This was the last piece that we needed in order to make our final decision to move forward. We then scheduled our next appointment for measurements and pictures.

At the measurement appointment, be prepared for your child to have to wear a stocking over their entire face. It certainly didn’t bother Colin, but bring a bottle and some of their favorite toys to keep them happy {and still} while their pictures are done. This appointment was surprisingly fast and easy!

Step 3 – Fitting

Two weeks later our DOC band was ready! We attended another appointment to test the fit and make adjustments. At this appointment we were told how to put on and remove the band, how to clean and decorate, and how to keep baby cool while wearing the band in our Houston heat! Be prepared for this to be a longer appointment since you are given a lot of information and your child will need to sit with the band on for a while to see if it’s rubbing in any of the wrong places.

What You Need to Know About Baby Helmets | Houston Moms Blog

Step 4 – Growth Adjustments

For the next few months {or however long your child is set to wear the band}, you will attend twice monthly appointments to give measurements and track progress. Necessary growth adjustments will be made along the way, and pictures will be taken throughout the course of treatment. We are amazed to see the progress just from the last visit at each appointment!

Step 5 – Graduation

We haven’t reached this final step yet, but once treatment is complete the band can be removed {and kept as a souvenir}. Our clinic even has a small mini-celebration!  The length of time that a helmet is worn will depend on the level of severity and also the child’s age. The older the child at the start of treatment, the longer the band may need to be worn.

>> PERSONAL EXPERIENCES <<

Public Reaction

My son has been wearing his helmet for 3 months, so we’ve heard it all. We hear little hushed voices asking their parents why is that baby wearing a helmet, and we get concerned half smiles from parents and adults. But we also get TONS of awesome attention and people who want to stop and talk about it. Some ask questions, and others just comment about the design or say, “Go Texans!” since we did decorate his helmet JJ Watt style! There is another group too that we get stopped by often: the unofficial club of helmet alums, families who have experienced this firsthand. We have been stopped many times by families saying it was the best decision they could have made for their child. In fact, we haven’t heard one negative thing from a family saying it was too hard or it was a mistake. This was so encouraging to us in the beginning when we probably seemed self-conscious about it.

Every now and then we get a negative comment, usually from an older generation, saying sometimes directly to me, sometimes under their breath, that it’s cruel to make a kid wear that in this heat or it’s a silly fad. You know the “My kids didn’t have to wear that and they turned out just fine” type of comments. While I’d love to say, “Mind your own {non-doctor} business, jerk,” I’ve learned that you will get a better outcome by smiling and kindly telling them about it and why it’s more common these days. Usually by the time our conversation is over, they seem to get it, and I feel good that I {hopefully!} converted another ignorant starer to an informed carer.

Those comments are few and far between though. I would say it’s actually been an overwhelmingly positive experience when out in public. Whether from pity or support, we make so many friends and strike up many conversations with strangers about the helmet – and Colin LOVES the attention.

If you see a child wearing a helmet, I encourage you to stop and say hi or even ask questions, but the best way to do it is with a smile and encouragement. Kids are the best at this. They are naturally curious, so they ask questions, but also comment on how cool and cute it is. Don’t lead with a negative like “poor baby.” Lead with a positive before asking your questions like “He looks so precious – I love how you decorated it.”

Have Fun With It!

Although totally unnecessary, it’s fun to decorate your child’s helmet to reflect their personality or family interests.  I was all about making the most out of this experience and really embracing it, so we opted to have it professionally decorated. Both my husband and I have an extreme love for our city, so a Houston Texans helmet just seemed like the perfect theme for us – plus, we knew that he’d be wearing it into football season and possibly Halloween. Hello, multi-tasking!

What You Need to Know About Baby Helmets | Houston Moms Blog

You can certainly use your artistic side and decorate the band yourself, but if you are anything like me, outsourcing may be the way to go! You can find wraps and templates on Etsy, or if you want to stay local, checkout a car wrap place to wrap your helmet – that’s what we did!  Check out Colortech Direct in North Houston. They were so wonderful to work with.  They can create something custom for you, or you can pick from one of their templates. This family-owned company started wrapping helmets after their son wore one years ago and they couldn’t find options to personalize it.

Final Tips if Considering Treatment for Your Child…

  • There is nothing to lose by getting a free evaluation. If you are unsure, a one-hour appointment will give you peace of mind, no matter what the outcome is. You can also checkout this online at-home assessment.
  • Consult with your pediatrician before making a decision, and seek second opinions if you aren’t sure. We were still unsure after our consultation, but after going over the reports and measurements with our pediatrician, the decision was clear.
  • Include your partner/spouse/caregivers in the process, and make sure everyone who cares for your child understands the reasoning behind the helmet and the importance of wearing it 23 hours a day; otherwise, it’s not going to work.
  • Document conservative care to file with insurance about re-positioning techniques.
  • Don’t wait too long before mentioning any concerns to your pediatrician. Treatment needs to be started before they are one year old for it to be effective. We felt late to the game at even 6 months.
  • Trust your gut. As cliche as it sounds, keep asking those questions and seeking answers if you have concerns about your child’s head. Before I ever knew what brachycephaly was, I had a feeling that we had an issue.

Now it’s your turn?  Who else is part of the helmet alum club?

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8 Responses to Why My Baby Is Wearing a Helmet

  1. Alicia August 23, 2016 at 6:58 am #

    This was a great article! My son had to have a helmet as well for about 2 mo so I completely understand where you are coming from. The people at cranial technologies is awesome! I would highly recommend them anytime.

  2. Amy August 23, 2016 at 7:16 am #

    This article came at the perfect time. My 6 month old son will be getting scanned for his DOC band this Thursday and then getting the helmet in 2 weeks. I’m still nervous it’s not the right decision, how he will adjust, all the comments from unsupportive people, etc. The article was nice to know I’m not alone!

  3. Laura D August 23, 2016 at 12:38 pm #

    I really happy that I saw this post today. We are in the process of getting my daughter a doc band. She has the same exact issue as Colin and she is 9 months old. I wish we had gone in sooner but I’m glad I made the appointment with Cranial Technologies. You post is very informative! Thanks for sharing!

  4. Suzanne August 23, 2016 at 9:36 pm #

    We are helmet alums! Best decision ever! Lane never minded it one bit. He’s 4 now, and loves to see babies out in public who are “just like he was!”

  5. Casey August 24, 2016 at 7:02 am #

    My son was diagnosed with torticollis and plagiocephaly. He got his helmet off last month and we loved, loved Cranial Technologies. I have nothing but positive things to say for our experience! Your descriptions of the process and experience is spot on. The last few months will go by fast! 🙂

  6. Mohd Imran January 6, 2017 at 11:34 am #

    Hi

    I need a helmat for a baby her head is flat, can you please contract to me on 7698003227

  7. Sue chen April 4, 2017 at 1:20 am #

    How long the insurance approval process took ?
    Our daughter will probably going to need helmet but we are worried insurance will not cover that
    Her pediatrician serms to not so concern about it but now at 6 month old we still see her head quite flat

  8. Cali May 30, 2017 at 4:09 pm #

    My son had the doc band 10 years ago as a newborn because he had craniosynostosis. It’s just another reason they have to wear them. To avoid a more extensive surgery, he had an endoscopic surgery at 3 months to open his prematurely fused suture followed by 3 months in the helmet to shape his head.

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