If the word plagiocephaly doesn’t sound familiar, it is not surprising. Plagiocephaly is a condition that a lot of babies develop; it is a condition that can frighten a lot of parents. Plagiocephaly is more commonly referred to as "flat head syndrome" and it is used to describe babies with heads that are misshapen.
Not all babies have beautiful round heads, and this is noticed as soon as they are born. Babies who are born naturally usually come out with a misshapen head, due to moving through the birth canal and out the exit. This is normal and is why their skulls are not born fused together. They leave some room for shifting so they can fill out. This is not plagiocephaly as usually within 12-24 hours, the head has gone back to a normal shape.
There are some cases where the head takes on a prominent misshape and seems to stay that way. This can be alarming to parents, as they worry about if it will affect their baby’s development. They also don’t want their baby to go through life with a head that is not the right shape. There is a lot to know about plagiocephaly, and here are 20 things that doctors won’t tell parents (until it is too late).
20 It Could Happen To Your Baby
Plagiocephaly is not something that is on a lot of parent’s radars, so they are quite surprised when it happens to their baby. I know I was when I noticed my son’s head was flat on one side. It was a disturbing image and I worried that I had done something to cause it. The truth is, it can happen to anyone’s baby and the odds are it will.
Plagiocephaly is super common. Today, plagiocephaly affects about 47% of babies. That is about one out every two babies. That is an alarming number but remember not all cases are severe or need intervention.
19 Adults Don’t Have Flat Heads
No one’s head is a perfect shape. The good news is that unless you shave your head you could go your whole life thinking you have a perfectly round head. Those that do shave their heads may notice there are some flaws in their skull. However, adults generally are not living with plagiocephaly and the reason is because we were placed to sleep on our bellies.
Plagiocephaly can occur from a baby laying in one position too long. When babies lay on their back to sleep, they could be putting a lot of pressure on one side of their head, causing it to lose its shape. Since we were placed on our stomach to sleep, we won’t see this problem in adults.
18 Why Are We Doing This To Babies?
It would seem to make sense that if we know that laying babies on their backs is what causes this, then we should just place them to sleep a different way. Then we would see the rates of plagiocephaly drop drastically. This may be true, but we have to remember why we place our babies on their backs to begin with.
The "Back to Sleep" campaign has saved many babies and the benefits of that have outweighed the risk of developing a flat head. Plagiocephaly can be corrected so it seemed only sensible to continue placing our babies on their back to sleep.
17 Is There An Effect On Brain Development?
This is the biggest concern a mom may have when it comes to noticing a misshapen skull. Moms will be worried that this could in some way affect the development of a baby’s brain. The good news is that there is no evidence that suggests plagiocephaly has any impact on the development of a baby’s brain.
Plagiocephaly is primarily a ‘cosmetic’ issue and it is more about changing the way the baby’s head looks. Now, moms don’t have to feel guilty for fixing their baby’s flat spot because they think people will judge them for being vain. We want to give our children the best start in life, and if we can correct something in a non-invasive way, why not?
16 Can Mom Prevent It?
To all the new and expectant moms out there who are wondering if there is something, they can do to prevent this, the answer is yes. The best way to try and prevent your baby from getting plagiocephaly is by making sure that they are not laying on one side for a long period of time. When your baby is sleeping, try and rotate their heads so that they are not spending a lot of time on one specific spot.
You can also encourage a lot of tummy time, and baby-wear as much as you can. The less amount of time the baby spends flat on their back, the better. So, keep that baby upright as much as you possibly can.
15 You Have A Small Window
The good thing about plagiocephaly is that is correctable. This can be fixed, and it is normally done by placing a cranial band, or helmet, on the baby. The tricky part is that it has to be done early. New moms should routinely check their baby’s head to review the shape. If they notice that something does not look right, they should bring it up to their pediatrician.
The earlier a helmet gets placed, the better and the quicker mom will see results. Babies grow quickly and they grow quickly at the beginning of their life. If mom can catch all of this growth with her baby in a helmet, then she is going to see better and faster results.
14 Sorry, It’s Too Late To Fix It!
Here we have some bad news. There will come a time when it is too late the fix your child’s head. When your child turns 2, plagiocephaly can no longer be corrected. That is because by the time your child is 2, their skull has fused. When the skull fuses, it becomes one strong bone and it can not be manipulated — even by a helmet.
That is why it is so key to catch it early. By the time a child is 7 months old, 75% of their growth has been completed and the helmet will start to take longer to work. It will still correct, but it will take longer, and it may never get to the level mom wants it to be at.
13 How Is It Corrected?
The greatest thing about plagiocephaly is that the treatment is non-invasive. There are no procedures, and (usually) very little discomfort for the baby. A cranial band will be molded using a scan of your baby’s head. This scan is also done by either a machine they lay in or a handheld device. The helmet is then placed on the baby’s head.
Since it is custom made, it should be a perfect fit. If not, they can always make adjustments to get it perfect. The hardest adjustment is going to be for your little one’s body to regulate their temperature. The helmet may make them feel hotter than normal. It takes about a week for their body to find a new “normal” and then it is smooth sailing.
12 Get Used To People Staring
We live in a world where everyone has an opinion and they are not afraid to share it with the world. This is even more prominent on social media, where we don’t even need to worry about saying something to someone’s face. There will be comments made when your little one has to wear a helmet, but the good news is that a lot of the time, they come from a good place.
A lot of the time, comments are made, and questions are asked because people don’t understand why your little one is wearing a helmet. Some may think that you are just an overprotective mom, but there is nothing really wrong with that either.
11 Is It Purely Cosmetic?
Going back to when we say that there is no risk to cognitive development when a baby has plagiocephaly, that would leave us to believe that moms are putting a helmet on their baby for pure cosmetic (and vain) reasons. This is mostly true, that a main portion of the problem lies in cosmetic issues, that is not the only problem.
There are some practical issues that can arise when a baby stays with a misshapen head. A flat head also means that your little one’s face is not symmetrical. One ear could be higher or lower than the other one. This could mean that if your child ever needs glasses, they may have a hard time getting them to stay on their face.
10 Following Your Doctor Blindly
There are specialists when it comes to plagiocephaly and these specialists are not normally your family MD or pediatrician. It is common for a mom to first bring up this issue with their child’s primary health provider, but they should then be sent to a specialist.
Since general doctors are not as educated when it comes to plagiocephaly, they will often tell a lot of moms that it will fix on its own or to try other methods. This is fine to do for a short time, but if mom doesn’t notice a change, she should be seeking extra guidance. There is such a small window to fix this concern that there really is no time to waste.
9 You Absolutely Need A Script
A helmet is absolutely a medical device and therefore it would need a script. This can be made by a specialist who will send you to an orthotist who can perform a head scan and let you know how mild or severe the flat spot is. They will then do the measurements for a helmet to be made. A script is also important for insurance reasons.
Some insurance providers will provide some (if not all) coverage for cranial bands and they need a script in order to do this. Helmets are not cheap and can cost parents a few thousand dollars, so a script is a must.
8 Who Is It Harder On?
A lot of people feel a lot of sympathy when they see a little baby in a helmet. They think, "that poor thing" and make all kinds of gentle noises. The truth is, most babies adapt very easily to the helmet and don’t even notice it is on. The whole process is generally harder on the parents than the baby.
Babies are resilient and they bounce back pretty quickly. It won’t take them long to get used to wearing a helmet and just living life like this is how they are supposed to live. The parents can take it much harder, feeling bad for their little one and feeling some guilt that they may have caused this (they didn’t by the way).
7 How Long Your Little One Will Have This Thing On!
Every baby and case of plagiocephaly is different, so it is hard to give an exact timeline of how long your little one will need to wear the helmet. It is not like the doctor won’t tell mom this information, it is more likely that he can’t. If caught early enough and treatment starts right away, the average timeframe is about four months.
If the helmet gets placed around the four- to five-month mark, it is going to be a shorter time. If the helmet is placed when the baby is a bit older, then they may be looking at a longer span of time because their growth has slowed down.
6 How Exactly The Helmet Works
So, the helmets are cute, and we know that they do work, but how do they work exactly. Well, a helmet is made for each baby based off a scan of their head. The helmet sits close to the skin where the ‘normal’ parts are and there are gaps where the flat spots are. Now all mom has to do is wait for some growth spurts.
When a baby goes through a growth spurt, the helmet forces the growth to occur on the flat spots only. Since the helmet is holding the spots that are not flat, growth will be pushed to extend the flat spots and even the head out. Something so simple has amazing results.
5 The Doc Will See You Regularly
If you have to helmet your baby get ready to go to your orthotic specialist a lot. Once the helmet is in place, the specialist will probably have to see you every three to four weeks. They want to monitor the growth and scan the head constantly to see if the helmet is working. This can seem very tiring, but as a mom of a boy with plagiocephaly, I always look forward to seeing the growth and change.
They also will want to check in and make sure the helmet doesn’t need any adjustments. Over time, the helmet may need to be shaved down to accommodate growth and if it is not it could cause some irritation on the baby’s scalp which would not be comfortable.
4 Excuse Me, How Many Hours Do They Have To Wear It?
So, we know that the length of time the baby has to wear it can depend on each individual baby and their case, but how long they have to keep it on each day remains the same across the board. Babies have to wear the helmet "full-time." Full-time wear is 23 hours a day.
That seems like a lot, and it is, but mom wants to catch every growth spurt she can, and this time will have the best outcome. The one hour it comes off means that the helmet needs to be washed and the baby has a bath. There are opportunities to give them more breaks throughout the day but the longer the baby has it on, the shorter period of his life he will be in it.
3 Decorate Away!
The helmets may already be pretty cute, but some parents want to take it up a notch and add further decorations to it. There are many opportunities to make the helmet as cute as it can be, and you have to look no further than online. There are some companies that make decals for the helmet and they all usually have a cute theme.
If your little one is a girl, then feel free to add cute bows and accessories to the helmet. There are also tons of videos online that can show you how to properly apply and care for any decorations to make sure they last as long as your little one is in the helmet.
2 These Helmets Come At A Price
We mentioned earlier how these helmets are not cheap, and they really are not. Doctors want you to use these so they may not be as forthcoming with the price tag as they should be. Prices will vary depending on which helmet your little one needs, but they all have a steep cost.
I can use my case as an example. My son’s helmets cost was $2,600. This covered the helmet as well as all the follow-up appointments. We were lucky and our private insurance covered most of this cost, leaving us to pay $600 out of pocket. Some people are not so lucky and end up having to pay the full price and more if their little one needs a second helmet due to growth.
The time in the helmet will fly by and before mom knows it, it is time for the helmet to come off. It is a joyous time and one that mom has been waiting for. However, you can’t just jump right into it and take it off full-time. The baby needs to be ‘weaned’ from the helmet. They have gotten so used to wearing it that they need time to adjust to life without it.
This means that you gradually let them have longer periods of the helmet off and eventually they will only wear it to sleep and then not at all. They also have to learn to control their head a bit. They are used to falling over and not really paying attention because the helmet protected their little noggin.