Plagiocephaly – it sounds and, even looks, extremely serious. While some cases of “flat head syndrome” are very severe, a diagnosis and treatment of plagiocephaly is much more manageable than it seems! All four of my daughters had baby helmets to correct their heads. I want to share my experience and 5 things to know for baby helmets when going through treatment. I am not a medical professional – I am simply sharing our story in hopes to demystify plagiocephaly treatment.
Why do babies wear helmets? For twins, it is very common to receive a plagiocephaly diagnosis. Mostly this is due to their positions while in utero. There is less room for the babies to move around, so after a certain point in the pregnancy, there can be pressure points on their skulls. For example, one of my daughters formed “corners” on her forehead from being head down and engaged for so long during my pregnancy. Flat head can occur anywhere on the skull – not just the back of the heads (although certainly the most common).
What did we do? For my first set of twins, they were born at 33 weeks and started physical therapy while in NICU. Crazy right?? They were visited a certain number of times a day (I cannot recall off the top of my head) for strengthening and positioning. They continued physical therapy until they graduated at 18 months. From birth, we attempted to correct their plagiocephaly through physical therapy. At 8 months old, they were evaluated and still remained in the severe category. Recommendation of treatment was a team effort from our pediatrician, physical therapist, and clinician from Cranial Technologies (the helmet provider we decided to pursue).
Decision to use Baby Helmets
Premature babies have an actual age and a corrected or adjusted age (based on their actual birth day and estimated due date). So the bigs started their treatment at 6 months old corrected and needed a total of 4 months of treatment. The later you start the treatment, the longer the duration of the treatment. This is due to the fact that babies heads grow much faster during the early months (easier and quicker to correct) versus after 6ish months when the head growth slows.
For the littles, we were armed with experience and much more information from the bigs. We knew the chances are increased for plagiocephaly with twins and proactive the second time around. I carried the littles longer (36 weeks), but they still had flat spots on their heads. At 4 months, we had the littles evaluated at Cranial Technologies again. One was severe and the other was moderate/severe – both had a recommendation of treatment. We decided to pursue the treatment and this time, they only needed 7 weeks!
If you feel your child has plagiocephaly, I would encourage an evaluation (they are free!). I am really happy with our results and definitely think the helmets were worth it to us. At 3.5 years old, one of the bigs needed to see a neurologist for a different issue (which ended up fine). As a part of that, he evaluated her before and after records from Cranial Technologies and was super impressed with the correction we experienced. I have no regrets!! Also – follow up with your insurance company!!!! We were able to get our helmets covered for all 4 children at minimal cost. If you decide treatment is the right course of action for your baby, these are 5 things to know for baby helmets.
Care & Cleaning
The actual helmets are very light (~6oz). They are made of a foam like material with an outer shell. It is recommended to wear the helmet for 23 hours a day. We took our hour break during bath time (we bathed them every night during helmet treatment). Cleaning is super simple – just spray with isopropyl alcohol and wipe with a towel. It is important to allow the helmet and their hair to dry completely after bath time before reapplying the helmet. Some people experienced an odor in their helmets, but we never did (and the bigs got their treatment during a Houston summer – hot!!). We diligently shampooed their hair and cleaned their helmets every day.
Light-weight cotton clothing will be most comfortable for your baby during helmet treatment. For the bigs, they slept in regular pajamas at night and wore cotton onesies during the day. The littles still wore onesies during the day, but they were still in a transition swaddle or sleep sack at night. We just put them in a diaper at night so we could still use their swaddles.
Sleep & Play
3 out of 4 of my kids had no trouble at all sleeping in their helmets. I was shocked at what a non-issue it was. The 4th had some pressure points that were uncomfortable for her at first, but once the clinic adjusted her helmet, she was able to sleep comfortably. While they were awake and playing – they never even noticed. None of my kids tried to take them off, were irritable, or otherwise noticed the helmets (unless on their twin!).
The check in appointments are fairly quick. They will measure the growth from the previous appointment and make adjustments to the helmet. How do they do this? A machine shaves off the inside of the helmet to “guide” the growth of the skull. The skull grows in the path of least resistance, so it is essentially lengthening the flat spots of the head. I am certainly not doing the description justice, but your local clinician will use all the proper medical jargon for you! If you seek treatment early, the appointments are more frequent (~1-2 weeks) since baby’s heads grow more quickly early on. If you seek treatment later, the appointments are more spaced (every ~2-3 weeks).
This is the cutest part!! I needed differentiation for the twins’ helmets, so having their names was essential for me (helmets are custom made for each individual baby). While there are companies that will custom wrap the band and provide baby helmet designs, I personally did not want to send the band off to be wrapped since it cut into their treatment time. Instead, I decorated with stickers and put two layers of modge podge over the entire helmet. There are several baby helmet decals that can be found online on sites such as Etsy.