Saying NO to Cranial Helmets: You have Options

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READING TIME: 5 min.

baby

Ellie was about 2 months old when my husband, a chiropractor who notices these things, said to me “man, her head is starting to look really flat, we need to watch out for that.” What? My perfect baby… no way! But I noticed it too. Our first born had the same issue but she rolled over early and started sleeping on her stomach and it resolved itself early so I wasn’t overly concerned. Then at 3 months, Ellie was still showing no interest in rolling over (lazy baby!) and spending a lot of time on her back which was making her flat head worse. She also favored one side so the flat spot was really focused in one area. I decided it was time to talk to our pediatrician.

At our pediatrician visit she immediately noticed the flatness before I even said anything. She thought she was probably a candidate for a helmet and referred us to a cranial tech (the maker of helmets) for a scan. Right then and there I decided I was NOT going to make my baby wear a helmet. It just seemed like too much and the thought of having to wear a helmet 24/7 didn’t sound fun to me so my 3-month-old was probably not going to enjoy it either.

baby head scanAfter talking with my husband we decided to go ahead and get the scan. Fortunately the tech was amazing and said that helmets are not the only answer and that Ellie was a great candidate for therapy and re-positioning to keep her from having to wear the helmet. I was so excited to hear that and from then on we were on a mission to keep her out of a helmet.

Ellie was officially diagnosed with Plagiocephaly, Brachycephaly and Torticollis. Plagio (for short) is the most common and is when the head is flattened on one side and causes the head to look distorted in shape. Brachy (for short) is when the back of the head is flat and causes the entire skull to widen and sometimes bulge in the front. Torticollis is when the neck is twisted into a specific position, often times caused by the position in the womb, and often causes Plagio or Brachy by keeping the baby in the same position thus putting pressure that malforms the head. 

plagiocephaly head
plagiocephaly head

46% percent of babies will have some degree of plagiocephaly and 80% of babies with plagio have torticollis.

So what do you do when you want to avoid a helmet? Below are my recommendations for how to say NO to the helmet.

  1. Prevent it from happening in the first place. There are definitely things I would do differently if I had known. It is recommended that babies sleep on their back so it’s hard to avoid the sleeping hours but the biggest factors that cause plagio and brachy are actually all of the containers that we keep them in. The Rock n Play is one of the worst culprits. We used it with Ellie and she slept so we were hesitant to get rid of it but it made a huge difference. The more you can get your baby out of their carseat, swing, bouncer, rock n play, momaroo etc. etc. the better off they will be.
  2. Re-positioning. Because of Ellie’s flat spot on her left side we needed to re-position her to put pressure on her right side to start to even things out and allow growth on the left. This meant that any time we could we would position her onto her right side. We would put all of her toys on one side, have her sister play and talk to her on one side, use blankets and towels to prop her on her side. No more laying flat or putting pressure on her left. We saw results with this very quickly!
  3. Therapy. This is where you can really make a difference! Most parents are not told about therapy options to consider before putting their baby in a helmet. There is so much that therapy can do to help your baby and keep them from ever needing a helmet. We found an amazing therapy group here in Dallas called Baby Begin. They specialize in plagio, brachy and torticollis therapy for babies with the goal of preventing them from needing a helmet. They are amazing! We did bi-weekly visits in our own house and then they taught us exercises we could do at home on our own. After a few sessions Ellie was a different baby! She was moving better, started to enjoy tummy time and her head shape greatly improved.
  4. Chiropractic Care. I mentioned before that my husband is a chiropractor and while he didn’t directly treat Ellie (it’s not his specialty) we saw a chiropractor that did. Through gentle adjustments with very light pressure and by putting gentle pressure on her head, Ellie’s torticollis greatly improved along with the overall shape of her head. In addition to treating plagio, brachy and torticollis we also love our regular adjustments for preventing ear infections, general sickness, gas and for staying aligned and loose so she can move better. We love Dr. Whitney at MotherMe Chiropractic!

therapy

By exploring all of our options and not signing up for a helmet right away we were able to improve Ellie’s conditions, save money (big money) and keep her from having to wear a helmet 24/7 for several weeks to months. I am so happy I found these options for our daughter and I hope it might help you too! Of course, there is nothing wrong with helmets as a treatment and in some severe cases it might be the only way but we wanted to avoid it and you might too.

Do you have a success story to share? Things that worked for you little ones? Let us know!

 

**I am not a health professional, all of these recommendations are based on research and our experience through our own treatment. Please consult a professional before choosing a treatment path for your family.**

15 COMMENTS

  1. My baby had Torticollis and Plagio from the way he laid in utero and we did go the cranial helmet route. It really wasn’t as bad as I envisioned and since he grew exponentially fast, he only had to wear it for 6-7 weeks. On top of that he also did physical therapy until he learned to roll and hold his head up, which he really resisted for a long time. I’m glad to hear there are other options and you were able to avoid getting the helmet for your little. I now see it as something to not be afraid of, but definitely better to avoid if other options work out.

    • Julie..first of all, thank you for reading! So glad to hear the helmet was a good experience and he didn’t have to wear it for very long.

      Ellie resisted rolling and holding her head up too and the physical therapy and chiropractic treatment helped that tremendously.

      Definitely something not to be afraid of but always good to know all the options for our littles.

  2. I wish these options would have worked for us. My daughter however grew very slowly and still does. She wore a helmet for 6 mo. She still had to have therapy for tort. It was a long process for us and taking care of a helmet for that long became frustrating at times. She also had a head full of hair and piggy tails coming out of the top.

  3. I just want to warn people who read this blog that chiropractic care for infants can be extremely risky and dangerous. Chiropractors are not doctors. The infant’s spine is too flexible to be manipulated at such a young age. Just please do your research before deciding to take your baby to a chiropractor.

    • Blair,

      First off, apologies for taking so long to respond. I do want to take the time though because I believe you are incorrect in your statement. My husband is a chiropractor (who is a doctor by the way) and there is a lot of evidence and medical support to show that gentle movements and the appropriate way of adjusting infants is not only safe but can be extremely helpful for many things, not just the issues stated in this blog post. I would directly disagree with the statement “chiropractic care for infants can be extremely risky and dangerous.” As with all things, I definitely encourage parents to do their own research and in this case much of that research can lead to very powerful results for infants and adults alike who see a chiropractor.

      Thank you for reading!

      -Hallie

  4. I would never say no to a cranial helmet! My 6 month old son has torticollis and plagiocephaly. He’s been in PT since 3.5 and has been wearing a helmet since 4 months. I cannot say enough good about the helmet route! His head was in the normal range after ONLY 6 weeks. Wearing the helmet is not as bad as people make it out to be – my son actually acts up when it’s off. So glad we quickly took this route instead of all of the stress and worries about “what if” these alternatives don’t work. I know of many that tried to wait it out/use alternatives and the plagio only got worse. The longer you wait to get the helmet, the longer they have to wear the helmet. Catching the growth spurt early on it key.

    • Hi Lyss,

      First off, thank you for reading! I agree that in many cases the helmet is the right choice for the family and there is nothing wrong with that. I just want to let people know that its not the only option and encourage seeking out other forms of correction if they are interested.

      I also wanted to speak to some of the baby items that many people use today that cause the problem. The best thing we can do is prevent from early on and avoid any issues at all!

      -Hallie

  5. Not everyone has insurance that will cover the helmets, and that is how I found this post. I’d love to see a photo update! Thank you for sharing these great ideas. I guess I maybe should just get rid of this bouncy chair, too. It’s the only thing he has to sit in, but he is four months so hopefully he will sit in his own soon.

    • Hi Kristina,

      Thank you for reading! Yes…our insurance was not going to cover the helmet because our daughter’s case was not severe enough. She is now 16 months and her head looks great and all movement is 100%. I will see if I can get a photo and update the post!

      And yes, the stuff they sit in etc. is the major culprit unfortunately. You know, the stuff that makes our lives as Moms easier. ha!

      -Hallie

  6. My son developed plagiocephaly from sleeping in a rock n play at night by my bedside. It got so severe, we were worried about his neck muscles not properly developing. Since he was a premmie, he was seeing a physical therapist to make sure he was reaching his milestones on time. His pediatrician at the time just wanted to wait and see if he’d need a helmet or not. While we did that, the flat spot got worse. We tried putting his toys to one side, propping him up with towels, blankets, even a foam baby positioner. But he always managed to lay on that spot. Luckily, I’d been going to a prenatal chiropractor during my pregnancy, and she also worked on babies and toddlers. She saw a comment I’d made in a natural parenting group where we’re both members. She told me that she would like to see my son to see if she could help. Within a few visits, the flat spot was gone! We were amazed. Dr. Diamond Brown rescued me from pain during my pregnancy, then, she saved my son from having to wear a helmet. All with just her hands… I’m still in awe.

    • Hi Tiffany! Thanks for reading. I LOVE hearing stories about chiropractic care and how awesome it can be. So glad to hear this worked so well for your baby AND for you during pregnancy. I would have never made it being pregnant without my regular adjustments. Thank you for sharing!

  7. Hallie: Loved your blog on avoiding the helmet. Wondering if this condition had something to do with your daughter’s difficulty with breastfeeding. (I recall we had little success helping her to feed well). Often babies with torticollis and other issues caused by being ‘out of balance’ will also affect their ability to feed well since so many nerves are involved around the head and neck can cause pain when feeding. Just thinking out loud. Your beautiful family looks so happy….you do great work!

  8. My child had plagiocephaly when we noticed it we followed our doctor and decided to make a surgery for this disorder many parts of the face and head are repositioned in my child like ears nose but the forehead is still not aligned will the features remains same or get there normal position with passage of time????

  9. How does chiropractic care help with plagio? Our five month old daughter has severe asymmetrical brachycephaly and torticollis. We have been repositioning for three months, and she has been in physical therapy for two months. Her torticollis is improving rapidly, but her head shape has changed little. Just wondering if seeing a chiropractor can help her if the torticollis is already being effectively treated with physical therapy?

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