Helmet Therapy for Babies
During the first year of their life, a baby’s brain doubles in size. While we tend to think of skulls as being all one piece, they’re actually made up of bony plates joined together by fibre-like “sutures”. To accommodate brain growth, babies’ skulls remain flexible for their first year.
Certain conditions can cause the skull to appear flat in certain areas. This may be due to a number of factors, such as the baby’s head repeatedly resting in the same position or being moulded into a particular shape during birth.
More rarely, it can result from craniosynostosis, where the skull plates fuse prematurely or abnormally. While this condition is linked with other developmental issues, for the most part “positional flattening” tends not to affect brain development, but some parents worry it could affect their child’s social wellbeing as they get older.
What Is Helmet Therapy?
In most cases, a slightly flattened head isn’t a problem and will likely fix itself partly through more time spent standing and sitting. In more severe cases, a baby head shaping helmet, or “cranial helmet” may be used.
Cranial helmets are typically made from a hard shell with a foam lining and are designed to place gentle pressure on the baby’s head in prominent areas while allowing for growth in areas where the skull is flatter.
This is monitored and adjusted throughout the process (the length of time it is worn for varies) as the baby’s skull develops to ensure it is working safely and effectively. To work properly, these must be worn during the growth period of the skull, as they will not work after the brain is fully grown.
Is It Effective?
While cranial helmets are still an option available to parents, they do carry some controversy: some studies have questioned their overall effectiveness (versus treatment without a helmet).
If the baby’s condition is not severe, adapting their typical sleep positions or physical therapy can help, as well as incorporating tummy-time into their day. Other solutions may include:
- Putting toys either side of the car seat, crib or mat they are on to encourage head movement
- If they are thumb-suckers, encourage them to use the opposite thumb (as babies turn their heads towards the thumb they are sucking)
- Limiting time in bouncy seats, baby swings and carseats
- Holding your baby upright or alternating the sides of your body you carry your baby on
- Switching up the direction your baby lays on the changing table or in the crib
- Using a specially curved mattress to redistribute the weight of the baby’s head
Is Helmet Therapy Safe for Babies?
One of the most important considerations is sleeping position. Since the launch of the UK’s “Back to Sleep” Campaign in 1991 to prevent SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome) there has been an increase in babies with positional skull deformation, but protecting your baby against SIDS is still incredibly important.
While they are not known to have a negative impact on development, cranial helmets can cause discomfort, which may have a lasting impact on their emotional health. If you have any concerns (especially if you are considering any form of treatment for your baby), always consult a licensed and fully-trained paediatrician first.