When my second was born I was pretty confident I was getting good at this parenting thing *cue laugh track*… But after one of our well-child appointments our pediatrician very casually said something to the effect of, “Her head looks almost perfect. I see there may be some plagiocephaly happening” and I panicked like a first time mom all over again. I tried really hard to keep my cool when interrogating my pediatrician about what plagiocephaly is and what happened to my daughter’s almost perfect head. But I think our pediatrician knew I needed to be talked down a bit.
It turns out “plagiocephaly” is a really fancy medical term for flat-head. My daughter was one month old when the pediatrician said we should keep an eye on it, and if it didn’t correct itself by 3 months she would recommend a cranial remolding helmet. Well, the 3 month appointment came and sure enough the problem hadn’t corrected itself (despite all my tummy time efforts). The hard truth of it was that my daughter needed a helmet to reshape her head.
For those of you parents out there who are new to this helmet thing, here are some things I wish I had known before my daughter was fitted for her helmet.
Why do some babies need helmets? Because their head isn’t round. So what will the helmet do exactly? Round out their head. That’s really all there is to it. Sometimes they develop a flat spot on the back of, or sides of, their head depending on how much time they spend on the floor or how they like to sleep at night. There really isn’t anything wrong with your baby and there is nothing wrong with your baby’s brain or development; sometimes flat spots happen. Even with all the tummy time in the world our babies can still develop flat spots and that’s okay; you can put that crushing mom-guilt feeling away. I know it can be hard to think of your baby as being in a helmet for a significant part of their first year of life, but it’s ultimately a cosmetic procedure. It is also a temporary solution for a permanent result.
Your doctor may recommend a helmet based on how flat a baby’s head is, but it is optional. You can decide that you don’t want to use a helmet. However, know that this is the only window of opportunity you have to reshape their head because once they get older their head isn’t able to be remolded, so they won’t have another chance. The flat spot on their head is fixable, but can really only be done effectively between 4-9 months of age because that’s when their heads are most re-moldable. There are, of course, exceptions but generally babies start wearing helmets between 4-9 months and wear them for as short as 3 months or as long as 6 months. It really depends on the level of severity. My daughter had a very mild case and we chose to go with the helmet precisely because there won’t be another chance to fix it, but it was a choice we made. No one forced us. My advice to any parents wrestling with the decision to use a helmet or not to: own your decision.
They Wear It All The Time
All the time. We were instructed 23 hours a day, every day. That 1 hour break they get every day is to air out their little heads and clean the helmet. You’re also allowed to remove the helmet for bath time, swim class, and when they eat their solid foods (because getting mushy bananas cleaned out of the helmet is so messy). If I’m being honest with you, between bathing, eating solid foods, and helmet cleaning, they will likely wear their helmet less than 23 hours a day. However, the point is that your baby should be wearing their helmet more often than not for the best results. The big exception is when your baby has a fever; specifically a fever over 100℉. If that happens then remove the helmet until the fever comes down. My little one was sick with a fever for two days and during that entire time we had her helmet off. The reason is because the helmet gets hot, and when your little one is already running a fever it can get uncomfortably hot in there – and there is no need to make their illness any worse.
This one surprised me more than it should have, but those helmets get a nasty funk smell over time. It makes sense, a helmet that gets warm and sweaty, and needs to be worn all the time? Yup, it’s gonna smell. That’s precisely why my doctor instructed me to wash it daily (which I fail at on a regular basis). Ideally the helmet is removed once daily, cleaned with rubbing alcohol, and then once the rubbing alcohol smell dissipates you put the helmet back on. Rarely am I so put together with my life that I can pull off simple instructions daily. But I’m hoping you all can do better than me on this front.
People Are Going To Look
There are lots of people who have never seen a baby wearing a helmet. Those people are going to look and since this is Minnesota, they are going to stare and hope you don’t notice even though we all notice. It’s a weird thing to go from bringing your baby out in public and getting strangers who used to smile at your little one, to suddenly having people just stare at your baby. It used to make me sad at first that people smiled less at my beautiful little girl because she had a helmet. But I learned very quickly that if I put a positive energy out there about the helmet, strangers would smile back at my daughter. If I noticed someone staring at her, I simply turned my baby towards the staring stranger and went, “Can you say ‘hi’? Say ‘hello’!” in my most upbeat mom voice to my baby girl and motion her hand to wave at the staring stranger. This would get her to smile and ultimately the stranger smiles back. Sometimes it would even start a conversation about the helmet. The key here is getting comfortable talking about the helmet. Don’t be embarrassed when people stare at your baby, most people sincerely don’t know about baby helmets.
You cannot convince me that the baby helmet is anything short of freaking adorable. You can customize the helmet, too! There are patterns to choose from and ways to dress up the helmet so that your baby can rock it. Some people really go all out when designing their baby helmet from customized decals to impressive paint jobs. I’ve even seen a Stormtrooper helmet that a dad made special for his son, and I love it. Since they will be wearing it all the time, you may as well have some fun with it. My older daughter loves to put bows on my younger one’s helmet and it’s maybe the cutest thing I’ve ever seen.
I cannot stress this enough–the baby helmet works. The results are amazing and I was surprised at how well my daughter’s head rounded out. It really does make a difference. Below I have an image of my daughter’s scans. The red circle is her initial scan of her head right before we started using her helmet. The blue circle is her second scan and you can see how much her head improved! It’s amazing that helmets are an option we have as parents for our little ones.
I’m so glad that we chose to use a helmet for our daughter. I’m not going to lie, I really was worried that the helmet would be a struggle for us. However, I’m really grateful that we went for it and that the helmet wasn’t as much of a struggle as I had anticipated. You get used to it and eventually everyone in your life gets used to the helmet, too.