How to Prevent Your Baby from Needing a Helmet
(and how to make it adorable if necessary)
When you become a new mom one of the most shocking things you learn is how little you knew about motherhood before you became a mom. There are approximately a million things I learned that I literally never even knew existed before becoming a mom. I have thought so many times…”Man, I just wish someone would have TOLD me about that and I could have prevented it!” So, in light of that feeling I am sharing my experience mothering a baby diagnosed with torticollis, plagiocephaly and who ultimately needed to wear a helmet.
A little background for you…our middle baby Keller had a tough delivery and was born sunny side up. This is the only explanation we were ever given as to why she may have had torticollis. Basically, a crick in her neck from delivery that she was never able to work out. At her two week appointment I mentioned to her pediatrician that I thought she was favoring one side of her neck more than the other. Her recommendation was to move her swing in the living room to a different side so she would look towards the TV in the opposite direction. Typing this now that last sentence is so upsetting to me. She could have told me so much more! I wasn’t satisfied with her recommendation so did some YouTube and google searches and learned a little about a few stretches we could do at home. She continued to favor one side and I continued to worry about it every night. I would wait for her to fall asleep in her bassinet and then rotate her head to the other direction…only for her to turn it right back moments later. Fast forward a few weeks when we returned to the pediatrician for her next appointment at 8 weeks. Now, she is diagnosed with torticollis and we are sent off for X-Rays. I was fuming! That was 6 weeks that I could have been working to correct her condition at home and now we have this diagnosis to deal with. So, on to the next step…Physical Therapy. This was a whole ordeal as well. The Pediatrician recommended waiting on ECI for physical therapy which had an 8 week wait list. At this point, she was 8 weeks old…so it felt ridiculous that we would have to wait 8 weeks to have her treated. It was double her life! I contacted our insurance company and we went with a private PT provider who was able to begin in only two weeks. Immediately, our fabulous therapist began to show me simple, SIMPLE things that I could be doing at home to help Keller. She made great strides with her neck mobility and by around 6 months was sitting up and turning her head almost completely across both sides. However, her plagiocephaly was not improving. The pediatrician (our new one because I chose to leave the previous Pedi) said there was a good chance her skull shape would round out as she grew and was more mobile, and therefore was on her back less. I agonized over whether she needed a helmet or not. Agonized! Lying awake at night, worrying. Crying to my husband about it, overwhelmed with guilt! It was awful. Finally, I decided to take her in to Cranial Technologies for a free evaluation. They scanned her cute little noggin and showed me where she fell on the irregularity scale, which was midline (meaning you could certainly opt not to do a helmet or you could choose to as well). I thought it was very interesting that you could already see a bit of asymmetry in her face from the plagiocephaly…one ear slightly higher than the other, one cheek slightly fuller…I had never even thought of this as I viewed her perfect face! Unfortunately, the helmet was not covered by our insurance provider (they almost never are) and they are quite expensive ($3,000+). We debated whether or not to move forward and in the end I kept picturing 18 year old Keller not getting a date to prom and blaming me because of her flat head so I insisted we get her one…haha! Best decision ever! I am so happy we just bit the bullet and bought that stinking helmet. Her head rounded out perfectly by her first birthday, it didn’t bother her at all and she looked adorable in it (more on that to come!) When I think back on it now it seems like it all happened in the blink of an eye but when I dive into the memories and recall PT twice a week, all of the appointments with the specialists, the emotional stress, the financial cost, the hour+ drives to Cranial Technologies and the specialists, etc it was a lot to deal with! I can’t help but think most of this could have been prevented had I been equipped with more knowledge at the onset of symptoms at her 2 week appointment. I am writing this blog post in hopes that it will help a few other moms out there who are navigating this as well!
What I wish I knew:
- I wish I would have known that getting the Doc Band takes quite a bit of time. First, you have to go in to the pediatrician to get a referral to a Craniofacial Specialist. At that appointment you will receive the referral to Cranial Technologies and ultimately the Rx. At Cranial Technologies they will scan your baby’s head and use 3D imaging to create the helmet for your baby. Then you have to wait for the helmet to be built and delivered to start your therapy which is around a month more of waiting. Throw in a few more weeks here and there to deal with insurance as well! This whole process took us around 2 months. Once your baby is a year old their head shape is determined so there is no molding it after that. Keller got her helmet at 8 months and I was so worried we had already missed our window. Getting in to Cranial Technologies early is imperative if you want to see positive results!
2. There are SO many things you can do early if you want to encourage your baby’s neck mobility (and therefore head shape)….here are a few:
- Every time you change your baby’s diaper, lay them down on the changing table in a different direction so they look at you over a different shoulder each time. This should also be your pattern for bathing, laying them down in their crib, nursing or giving a bottle, etc. Always change the direction and do it equally on both sides (even though your instinct will just be to focus on their “bad” side)
-If you are closely monitoring your baby (on a walk, etc where you can see their face is not obstructed) you can take a burp cloth and roll it up to create a little wedge behind their ear and help them look the way they are resisting. Remember to switch sides!
-You can do stretches that will help as well. Each time you change their diaper try gently rotating their head to one side so they are looking over their shoulder and hold their head in place while singing a little song. Then switch it to the other side and sing the song again. Then try moving their head so their ear is stretching toward their shoulder (not touching it), sing a little song and switch to the other side. This is done very gently, never forcing baby and causing further injury. If you feel resistance in the neck, absolutely stop! If you aren’t sure on this one ask your Pediatrician or a Physical Therapist to show you. This is the recommendation from one mom to another but I am not an expert and a professional can certainly show you the best methods here.
-There are products out there designed to help with head shape! The Boppy Nest Noggin was amazing for us and I wish we would have had it from day ONE! I also tried the Tortle for Keller and had a little success but she usually worked her head back to her preferred position in spite of it.
-Whenever you hold your baby you can use a football style hold across one arm where the neck is supported on your inner elbow. If you alternate sides each time you carry your child a natural stretching will occur due to the position that is not invasive at all.
-Infant massage is a wonderful tool to help their little muscles relax. We practiced this at home as well as seeing a massage therapist for Keller to show me a bit more of what to do.
-Lots of tummy time (even tummy time on an exercise ball…we did superman to strengthen her back on the exercise ball with our therapist). Use light up toys to encourage them to look in both directions while on their little tummies.
-There are other therapies you can look into like Osteopathic Manipulative Treatment…google it and see if there are local providers
3. If you notice something doesn’t seem right with your baby you should bring it up early and not be put off with a “wait and see” mentality. Several doctors along our journey said things like “well, she’s a girl and when her hair comes in you will barely be able to tell…” There was absolutely no solace for me in that comment. When they said that to me it felt kind of like she was born this perfect little baby that I messed up with my negligence and just had to hope her hair would grow in to cover it…sheesh!! What a horrible feeling! Go ahead and get that appointment if you are debating it.
4. You will look back on this and it will barely be a blip in your mind. I remember seeing a family at church one Sunday and the woman told me her oldest daughter also had to wear a helmet. Deep in the throws of this ordeal I wanted to know more of the details and asked “oh, really, how long did she have to wear hers?” I will never forget her response. She said, ” You know, I can’t really remember anymore.” I couldn’t believe that at the time! All the time I was spending dealing with this issue just made me feel like we would always remember every nuance of this…but, you know what…she was spot on. Now, I have to really think back and look through pictures on my phone to remember dates and it is all a little fuzzy…thankfully! This is only a season Mama.
Ok…it's happening…you are getting a helmet. No worries…you can make it adorable!
How to make it cute!
- Have it wrapped by a sign company or an auto body shop. They will wrap it the same way they would a car with an advertising wrap.
- Add stickers…with the Cricut cutter you could make that helmet amazing! I have put out an inquiry on our neighborhood Facebook page in the past to find someone I could hire to make stickers. A great option!
- Leave it plain and add a bow. I took a few bows and removed the clip on the back and replaced it with velcro. Then hot glued the receiving end of the velcro to the helmet and voila…precious! Then you can change out bows for outfits if you like as well.
- Paint it yourself! This is actually MUCH easier than you would imagine and the great thing is that you can do it yourself in one night instead of waiting on a third party since we know time is of the essence here. Here are the super simple steps I used:
- Lightly sand the helmet exterior with fine grain sandpaper
- Wipe the helmet off with a damp towel and prepare to paint it.
- Paint the exterior with acrylic craft paint and allow to dry. There are SO many adorable designs that I debated using and found on Pinterest. Ultimately I chose to do an abstract design with a lot of fun colors to match her clothes.
- Once the helmet is dry, seal the paint in with a clear layer of varnish. I did 3 coats of acrylic varnish to prevent the paint from chipping.
- Enjoy the cuteness!
Here are a few links to things I have mentioned in this blog post:
I hope you found this post helpful! I am always willing to answer questions about our experience and happy to share what I have learned. If you are still reading this, rest assured you are a wonderful mommy who has your baby’s best interest at heart. They are lucky to have you.