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Babies wearing helmets? What are they for and why on earth are kids wearing them these days? They come in bright colors, designs, and they even make decals for them to dress them up. Helmet Molding Therapy is the technical name for it and is used to help correct babies who have deformational plagiocephaly (flat head syndrome). We were able to avoid the need to use one with our daughter and while some of these methods won’t work with every baby here’s what we did to avoid a helmet.
About two months after my middle daughter was born we noticed that she was always looking to the left. Laying down she’d turn her head to the left. When I held her in my arm it was always my left arm because I’m right-handed and as a busy mom with a newborn and a two-year-old running around I needed to have my dominant hand readily available. At her 8-week well child visit, I asked my pediatrician if what I was seeing was normal and I shouldn’t be concerned or if there was something more to my little girl’s left-side favoritism. What I learned during that visit was that my daughter had torticollis and as a result, it was causing her to have flat head syndrome. A definition of torticollis that I found to be helpful is from Day 2 Day Parenting,
Torticollis means ‘twisted neck’ and is caused by damage to or a shortening of the Sterno-cleido-mastoid muscle (SCM muscle) in a baby’s neck. Congenital Muscular Torticollis (CMT) can be caused by in-utero positioning, lack of space in the uterus, a traumatic birth, a multiple birth or low amniotic fluid. Some babies have an actual tumor in the SCM muscle, while other babies just have tightness or thickness in the SCM muscle. Some babies may have no tumor or tightness, but have asymmetric neck posture due to eye problems, congenital absence of cervical muscles, low muscle tone or general delayed development.
What will the doctor look for? What happens if my baby is referred to physical therapy?
- to stretch out and loosen up her neck
- to teach her that the midline from her nose to her belly button is how the world should look.
We, and by “we” I mean “I”, had homework to do. My homework consisted of stretching my daughter’s neck to do three to four times a day. Our physical therapist also gave us a few exercises to do that would help her become re-orientated in the right mid-line direction. Those exercises were taking toys such as the Oball (pictured below). I would shake the Oball in front of her so that she would have to turn her head to find where the noise was coming from. Then she’d grab for the ball front and center. We also used the Fisher-Price Go Baby Go! 1-2-3 Crawl Along Snail and I would get her attention by turning the snail on so it would sing and then she’d have to turn her head to look for the snail which was always on the right.
Our physical therapist also had other suggestions we took her up on:
- We used a Baby Moon pillow for her to rest on during nap times and bedtime. The pillow works because it helps alleviate pressure on the back of the head or for her the left side of the head because the small hole in the center of the pillow makes it challenging for her to move.
- When she was awake she was always on her stomach so she wasn’t applying pressure to the already flat side of her head. Once she became strong enough to use an activity jumper you would find her hanging out in her activity jumper.
- The physical therapist also turned us on to using Summer Infant’s Cradler Head Positioning Pillow in her car seat. Again, the goal was to get her to realize that the world happened front and center from her belly button so the head positioning pillow helped with that in her car seat.
- Integrating chiropractic care to help loosen her neck muscles up. We saw a chiropractor who worked on her neck and did some cranial massage as well.
How long does a parent have to correct deformational plagiocephaly before it’s determined that a helmet is needed?