We all know and love the smell of a newborn’s baby head, and we can never get enough of watching them throw their tiny heads back as they giggle uncontrollably at the silliest little thing. Recently donning more of those baby heads are helmets that you may be seeing lately. You might be wondering, what are those helmets and how can I try to prevent using one on my new little one?
With the integration of the “Back to Sleep” campaign, we are now hearing fewer stories of losing babies to SIDS. However, with babies now spending more time on their backs instead of their tummies, their soft heads are more prone to becoming flat in one spot. Sometimes the flat spot is a result of positioning during pregnancy, and in these cases, it’s often difficult to re-mold the shape of the head without the use of a helmet.
But, more commonly, the flat spots are a result of extended positioning that places pressure on the back or side of the child’s head.
The flatness on the head can be characterized as brachycephaly (flatness on the back of the head) and/or plagiocephaly (flatness on the side of the head). In more involved cases, a helmet is definitely needed, and most babies don’t seem to be bothered by them at all (seriously, I have some patients who get upset when I take it off!). However, in some cases, helmet therapy can be prevented by implementing some different practices.
Here are five tips to avoid a flat head:
1. Tummy time!
Supervised tummy time is the best way for a baby to spend awake time. Work on tummy time on a firm, flat surface (think floor, play mat, etc). Try using faces, mirrors, and toys in order to encourage your baby to look up. Tummy time works twofold: it gets the baby off the back of their head, and it strengthens the muscles that help round out the base of the skull.
2. Encourage looking in all directions
Make sure you are talking to your baby from both directions, and make sure you are approaching your baby from both sides. When lying your baby down to nap, switch up the direction your baby is facing, so he or she will work on rotating to both sides to see you as you walk in to get him or her from the crib. This will help make sure that your baby is spending time on both sides of their head, in order to avoid getting flat on one spot.
3. Switch up the way you are holding your baby
Try to incorporate holding your baby so he or she looks out to the world over both shoulders. If you frequently hold your baby in one arm, try the other to see how your baby rotates their head in the opposite direction. This will help make sure that he or she is looking at both directions and limiting the likelihood of developing flatness on the back or side of the head
4. Limit time in positioning equipment
Try to limit time that your baby is spending in equipment that prevents your baby from turning their head to either side. When your baby’s head is stuck in one position, it can limit their ability to turn to either direction, thus increasing the chance of flatness on the side or back of the head. Instead of spending time in positioning equipment (think swings, bouncers, lounger pillows), try to incorporate some more time on a firm, flat surface where your baby can move their head to both sides and can spend some more time on their tummy!
5. Request a physical therapy evaluation
If you begin to notice some flattening that isn’t improving with the above listed tips, request a physical therapy (PT) consult from your pediatrician. A pediatric PT can look closer at what your baby’s needs are and can help incorporate other techniques to keep your baby’s head round.
Despite practice of the above recommendations, the earliest intervention, and/or the best physical therapy, helmets can’t always be avoided. And that’s OK too! If your baby needs a helmet, then that’s exactly what your baby needs to help their head shape. The bonus is, of course, that babies look absolutely adorable in them.