Last night after seeing my baby, an older woman who looked genuinely concerned, grabbed me by the arm. “I can see your baby has had some special needs,” she said to me. “Let’s just pray for him.”
My baby boy wears a helmet all day, every day. People stare and ask weird questions about it.
“I know that receiving the news that your beautiful, perfect baby needs to wear a helmet can be shocking and heart-breaking for many parents,” explains Brittany Gonazalez CO, MSOP and orthotist of Prosthetic and Orthotic Group, Inc. She shared info on some of the most frequent questions she hears, to help set the record straight on what helmets are really all about.
- Most helmets you see are for cosmetic reasons. Most babies used to sleep on their tummies. However, researchers found if babies sleep on their backs, the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), dropped by about 50%. SIDS is the #1 killer of babies from 1-month-old to 12-months-old, so a lot of parents follow that recommendation. The catch is that between sleeping on their backs and spending more time on their backs in car seats, a lot of babies now end up with funny-shaped heads (plus a lot of babies have funny-shaped heads from birth). A flat spot doesn’t damage the brain or affect its growth. The helmets just help the babies’ heads go back to being more round.
- A flat spot on the back of a baby’s head can also affect the baby’s face, ears, and jaw. A baby’s head has four “high points”, that are supposed to be in a rectangle shape. You can think of their head shape as an oval or ellipse that is drawn through these four points. If a flat spot forms on one side of the back of baby’s head it can shift these high points to be a parallelogram, instead of a rectangle. This can affect ear and jaw alignment and can also push forward part of the baby’s face (since now you’re “drawing” their head shape through a parallelogram).
- The helmets work like a mold. They don’t squeeze the head-instead they have spaces where the flat spots are. As the baby’s head grows, it fills in the voids, becoming more round.
- A helmet doesn’t hurt a baby. “The helmet does not squeeze the head, but rather, redirects future growth,” Gonzalez explains. “In less than one week, most babies don’t even realize they are wearing the helmet anymore!”
- Babies are supposed to wear the helmets 23 hours/day, for two reasons. First, you don’t know when the baby’s head will grow, so you want them to be wearing the helmet when their head grows. Also, if the four high points grow when they’re not wearing the helmet, then they may outgrow the helmet.
- The earlier they get a helmet, the shorter and the more effective the treatment is. A baby’s head grows really fast from 3-6 months, then slower from 6-9 months. The ideal time to start treatment is between 4-6 months old, but no later than 12 months old.
- The helmets get stinky. The first few days, your baby sweats a lot in there, so they literally start to smell from day one. The pros tell you to clean it out daily, but you may find you’re cleaning it twice a day in the beginning (it’s a simple process-you spray it out with rubbing alcohol then wash it out with the baby’s shampoo). They start to sweat less, after about a week.
- When your baby wears a helmet, you get asked weird questions by so many strangers: “Was he falling a lot?”, “Oh no, he has to wear a helmet?”, or even invitations to join moms’ groups for babies with special needs.
So where are we now-battling awkward questions from strangers?
In our case, I was initially excited to get our baby a helmet, after hearing such positive feedback about moms I’ve known through my daughter’s infanthood and through blogging:
One mom once started crying about her son’s helmet. She shared that she was SO GLAD she’d gotten him a helmet-his head scans revealed that if she hadn’t, his facial structure would have been affected because of the flat spot on the back of his head.
Another mom shared that they’d liked the helmets. They’d had a helmet for their first son and they decided to do two helmets for their second son and they were sad to see the helmet go.
I was kind of surprised and disappointed to find he wasn’t as snuggly with the helmet on-it felt a bit like snuggling a bowling ball. Smelling the top of his head was different and I missed kissing and stroking his hair. And he looked different and I missed seeing all of his cuteness.
I will say though, it’s been a bit handy that he’s had on a helmet a few times, when otherwise he would have bumped his head into something.
Also, I was re-energized after our last visit to the orthotist. Our little guy had a bit of a cone-head shape from birth that’s visibly better. Also, our Orthotist shared that his head has grown 5mm lengthwise and only 1mm wider, which is what we want… so it’s really working and it’s going faster than we’d planned.
We probably only have a few weeks left and he’ll have a nice round head for the rest of his life.
And you know what? He’s still in there. He’s still just a smiley, sweet ball of love and the helmet doesn’t change that one bit.
The helmet has even started to grow on me a little. He’s still just as cute as can be, to me. I took a picture of him after trying a carrot puree for his first time, and he was just so happy and cute covered in carrots. I don’t know-or really care-if others see him that way.
He just melts my heart.
As for the weird comments we’ve heard, we’ve heard just as many sweet comments from parents admiring his eyes or smile or sharing that their baby also wore one.
When I get questions from strangers about his helmet, I usually explain the helmet to them. In that moment where the kind woman suggested we pray for him… I appreciated her caring, and I welcome prayers for my baby, and for all babies with or without special needs.
So, this time, I just thanked her.
He’s perfect to me and he’ll be even more perfect thanks to his helmet. And I love him to pieces no matter what. I’m glad we can do this for him.
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