Babies in helmets are pretty much the cutest things ever, aren’t they? From the outside, what’s seen as just an adorable (or confusing) accessory, is actually a really important piece of medical equipment.
But unless you’ve gone through the helmet process with your own little one, it can be hard to understand what they’re really for. And if you’re faced with potentially having to use a helmet for your own baby, it can be overwhelming to think about what it might be like.
To help gain some insight, we spoke with Kim Lapides of Eat, Sleep, Wear on her personal experience with baby helmets. This, of course, is just one mother’s perspective. We hope that it helps give you a brief view on having a baby who wears a helmet and helps to ease your worries about the process.
Editor’s Note: Always direct all of your important questions to your pediatrician or a cranial technology specialist. This is not meant to replace medical advice or perspective.
How common is it for babies to wear helmets?
Once our son Otis got his helmet on, I started seeing helmet babies ALL OVER! I think it’s much more common these days to see babies with helmets. A big reason for that is likely because of the safe sleep practices of babies sleeping on their backs. But there are many reasons why babies can develop flat spots. I think it’s great that there is such an effective treatment option out there, so it’s been more of a common thing to see.
At first, it might be overwhelming but at the end of the day, I had a healthy and happy baby, and he was just fixing his flat spot in his cool little magic hat. Otis was always all smiles and literally could not care less about the fact he was wearing a helmet which really helped. Not to mention, that helmet came in handy when he started to stand up and pull himself up on things and crawl around!
It can be such an emotional process dealing with the fact that you have something that adds some additional steps to your life and changes it for a short period of time. Maybe getting baby dressed in the morning is a little harder because his shirt doesn’t fit over his helmet. Maybe it hurts that you can’t snuggle your little one’s head while you’re feeding them. But you adjust just like your baby does. Just know there are tons of babies out there fixing their flats spots, even if their parents aren’t sharing those photos all over their Instagram or Facebook. Everyone has their own way of dealing with these life transitions, but you are not alone.
If the pediatrician puts the decision in your hands, what do you do?
This is such a personal decision. I think there are many factors to weigh. I think your mom gut, in combination with the advice of amazing doctors and cranial technology specialists that you speak with, will always give you the answer.
Once we met with our cranial tech, they were able to measure Otis’ flatness and be able to place it on a scale of normal, moderate, severe. He was on the edge of the moderate/severe scale. By the time we started treatment, he was pushed over into the severe category in terms of his measurements.
We asked a lot of questions that ultimately helped us to make an informed decision. My biggest advice is to ALWAYS ask a lot of questions. As simple or dumb as you might think they are, you need all the answers when it comes to making such a big decision about your baby’s health. I always had a Google Doc created with an ongoing list of questions to keep me organized. This helped me feel informed throughout the process.
Be an advocate for yourself and for your baby. Ask questions. Get second opinions. I think all of these things will help you know what to do. I am so happy that we pursued treatment and also successfully graduated from our helmet.
What are they for?
The helmet itself is a custom-made helmet that basically has some extra space in it. While your baby gets bigger, their head then grows into this extra space in the helmet. This, in turn, helps to round out a flat spot or asymmetrical area of the head. Your doctor can give you a more medical perspective on this.
How expensive is it? Are there any alternatives? Is it necessary?
Honestly, the cost is outrageous.
Our helmet cost $2200 which included the custom-made helmet and all of our appointments. Our insurance did not cover it, and there was even a specific exclusion for helmets. We appealed and tried to fight it, but we had no luck. Then, the physical therapy appointments were $50 per visit. It was so expensive, and we were fortunate to be able to put it on a credit card.
It’s really unfortunate that the cost has to even be a factor in this decision, but it’s VERY expensive, so it always is a factor.
I would not say there is an alternative to treatment, but as far as early intervention goes, there are some head-adjusting hats, etc. that you can find on the market. None of those interventions worked for us. We tried them. My son’s torticollis was too strong.
Whether or not a helmet is necessary is a question for your pediatrician and your cranial technology specialist. In the end, all these health care providers can do their best to diagnose and steer you in the right direction. We had a very positive experience with the helmet overall, and now being on the other side of a successful treatment, I would 100 percent do it again if I had to with another child.
Was it difficult to get your baby used to the helmet?
I was extremely worried about how he would adjust to it. Him being uncomfortable was my biggest fear. Of course, there is always an adjustment period. That first week is EXTRA sweaty. They just get so sweaty with something new on their head, but that passes pretty quickly.
One thing I learned was to not put socks on him and always dress him in one layer less so he would not overheat because of his helmet. So, we skipped socks a lot and skipped shoes sometimes and just made sure he was comfortable.
The helmet did not really affect his sleep at all. Of course, the first few days there is a learning curve, but basically, he seemed pretty unaffected by it. Babies are so resilient and adjust so quickly. I think it also helps that both my husband and I had a positive attitude and approach.
Of course, we were nervous and excited and emotional, but we just tried to support our little baby as best as we could. And he did great.
Do they wear it 24/7?
They wear the helmet wear for 23 hours a day. It can be off 1 hour for bathtime and cleaning the helmet.
When you first initially get the helmet, there is a transition period where you switch off wearing it for 1 hour and off for 1 hour. Then, you gradually increase to help your little one’s body adjust to it. This is mostly because babies get super sweaty the first week in their helmet so this helps them to acclimate.
It’s so important to actually follow the rules your doctor gives you regarding your helmet since you are doing so much to help your little one fix their flat spot. There is some flexibility too. We traveled to Maui during the summer, and I was concerned about pool time and whether the helmet would affect our trip. We were able to keep it off for four hours during the day without affecting his treatment. Of course, this was just for special circumstance of being on vacation, and it’s not something we ever pushed beyond what was advised to us by specialists.
Talk with your cranial tech to come up with the best plan for your little one, but typical wear is always 23 hours a day.
How can you avoid it? Is it preventable?
I think this is a big stress for a lot of parents. You always blame yourself when you find out your baby has a flat spot. You keep asking yourself what you could have done differently. It’s a kind of complicated answer.
When a newborn is so little, they spent most of their day sleeping and that means most of their day is spent on their backs. That is the standard for safe sleep according to medical professionals.
So, while they are awake, tummy time is your best friend. Babies don’t always tend to tolerate tummy time well, but it can be a nice way to get them off the back of their heads for some awake time during the day.
We caught Otis’ flatness early and basically got rid of all our swings and contraptions, so he always had to be actively doing tummy time or being worn in a baby carrier. We didn’t allow ourselves to use any of his awake time in a swing or seat. We tried wearing him for all of his daytime naps, as suggested by our cranial tech since my husband and I both work from home.
I thought that for sure because of all the diligent work we were doing to keep him off his head, his flatness would surely improve. But after a month of this, his flatness actually got worse. So, this just goes to show you that sometimes, you can practice all the right things, and it’s nothing we could have done to prevent it.
If you are a mom who is recently going through this process, please be kind to yourself. It’s not your fault. We are all doing the best for our little ones, and some things are unavoidable even with the best intentions.
Does plagio affect development?
I am not a doctor, so I can only share what I learned from the health care professionals that we spoke with. We talked a lot with our cranial tech about the pros and cons of helmet treatment and what would happen if we decided not to pursue it. In our case, Otis’s head would have been flat, but he would have been healthy and happy.
What we learned is that in very, very severe flatness cases where there is extreme asymmetry, there is the potential to affect other parts of the body’s development, like jaw growth and more. As I said, I am not a doctor, but in most moderate flatness cases, it does not affect development.
I highly suggest you schedule an appointment with a cranial technology professional if you have any concerns about your baby’s flatness. They are amazing and can look at your baby’s head measurements to get a better understanding of where the flatness lies on the scale of what is normal and what is severe.
Are there long term effects after treatment is done?
The great thing about treatment is that once it’s done, it’s done.
The hard work of rounding out some of the initial flatness can’t be reversed. Since a baby is constantly going through developmental milestones, they have to reach some of those milestones before graduating from treatment.
For example, they have to be sleeping on their stomachs, sitting up independently, standing up, cruising furniture, even walking sometimes, until a doctor says that they are officially done. With each milestone, babies are naturally spending less time on the back of their head and in turn, allowing their head to naturally round out as time passes and their head continues to grow.
I feel like a bad mom because my baby has to wear a helmet. How do you get past this?
You are not a bad mom!
Trust me, I had those feelings of guilt too. I felt like I didn’t do enough to prevent Otis’s helmet treatment. It’s so hard when you are doing your absolute best to help your little ones. I know for me, it was an emotional process at first – you end up having to make decisions pretty quickly since there is a small window for treatment to be effective.
I think that talking to our cranial tech really helped to put things in perspective about just how common this is. She really eased our mind that we did everything we could do to prevent treatment. It’s a different journey for everyone, but it also helped to talk to other parents who were taking their kids to physical therapy for torticollis and were also considering helmet treatment. Some of them decided not to pursue treatment and some of them did.
I know it’s so overwhelming, but you will get through it. I am here to tell you, from a helmet graduate, that it was SO worth it and got easier along the way.
Are most doctors aware of the issue? How can parents advocate for their babies?
In our situation, I really had to advocate for our baby.
Our pediatrician spotted his flat spot at our two-month wellness visit and said she wasn’t concerned about it and to just focus on more tummy time. In my gut, I knew I wanted to investigate this further. The more I looked at his head, the flatter it looked to me, and I just didn’t see how this would get significantly better without intervention.
After talking to a few mom friends, I decided it would be proactive to get my son evaluated by a pediatric physical therapist to see if there were any underlying issues. At our appointment, the PT instantly noticed Otis’s muscle tightness. She is trained to see those intricacies in the muscles, and she diagnosed Otis with Right-Sided Torticollis.
At the end of our first appointment, the PT also gave us a referral to a cranial technology company. She suggest that if we were worried about his flatness that it wasn’t a bad idea to schedule a consult with them as they would be able to take head measurements and let us know how severe his flatness was to give us some treatment plan options.
There is a small window for helmet treatment to be effective, and I wanted to get Otis on the right track. I eventually had to come back to my pediatrician and talk about the findings from physical therapy and request a prescription for a helmet once we decided to pursue treatment. That was not the most fun chat, but it’s always important to advocate for your babies and seek out second opinions from other specialists if you are concerned.
Is there a point where it becomes too late to correct the issues?
I think every situation is uniquely different, but it’s very highly recommended to correct flatness sooner rather than later.
Since babies’ skulls are growing so quickly when they are infants, if you are pursuing treatment, it’s most effective when their skulls are in a period of rapid growth. Something I didn’t know is that the helmet basically creates space for the head to grow into. The helmet doesn’t reshape what is there but instead works to correct growth going forward. Their heads do most of their growing before one year, so my specialist wanted to get Otis into his helmet at the latest at 5 months old to ensure we could capture that precious head growth to really see great results.
What do you wish you had known before your baby got a helmet?
I wish I had known more about torticollis and being able to spot it so I could start physical therapy earlier with the hopes to help with earlier intervention.
I think when you are in the throes of new motherhood, you just want to focus on keeping your baby alive, and you don’t really notice that their head is favoring one side. Now I feel like I would spot this type of thing in an instant.
I think another thing I wish I had known is that period feels so emotional when you’re in it, but it really flies by. If you do need to do helmet treatment, it’s going to be over before you know it. And honestly, I am so happy we did it. I would go back and tell myself that these babies are so resilient and that he will be able to adjust so quickly.
Whether or not you choose to pursue helmet treatment, you are a great mom who is looking out for her baby, and there are tons of us out there who have your back.