Helmet therapy, also known as cranial orthosis, helmet orthosis, or helmet molding therapy, is a treatment method to mold the shape of a baby’s head. As cranial sutures are not fused in infants, helmets can help modify the skull’s shape. Molding helmets are useful around the age of four months to one year.
You may seek medical care for misshapen skull shape in early infancy itself since helmet therapy is not useful once the sutures are permanently fused. A cranial orthosis or the helmet to correct head shape has a hard outer shell and foam interior to pressure the head’s protruding side (opposite to flat spot) to expand the flat spot.
Read this post to know more about helmet therapy in infants.
Why Do Babies Need Helmets?
Helmet therapy for babies is recommended to correct the shape of their head. The routine newborn visit includes the assessment of the head circumference and shape. Pediatricians may suggest helmet therapy if your baby has a large flat spot that is not changing by the age of four months.
Wearing a helmet between four and six months of age can be more effective than later months. Skull shape may change with a helmet during this period. Later on, especially after one year of age, helmet therapy may not change the skull’s shape since it becomes harder and begins to fuse.
Helmet therapy is included in cosmetic treatments since the head’s shape is not a cause of developmental problems or brain damage.
What Conditions Are Treated With Helmet Therapy?
The following conditions are treated with helmet therapy (1):
Plagiocephaly, also called a flat head syndrome, is the flattening of a part of the baby’s head. Continuous pressure on one side of the head causes this condition. Usually, it happens on the back of the head since babies lie on their back for long periods, so it is called positional plagiocephaly.
Positional plagiocephaly is common since lying back is the safest sleeping position for babies, as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics. Although there is a change in the head’s shape, plagiocephaly is not dangerous since it does not affect brain growth and development in infants.
A flat spot does not cause pain or any other symptoms and may resolve with positional changes and physiotherapy in some cases. Helmet therapy is recommended for severe deformation not improved by other methods.
Craniosynostosis is a condition in which one or more of the fibrous sutures in an infant (very young) skull prematurely fuse by turning into bone (ossification), this changes the growth of the skull. This can be mostly due to genetic issues in many babies or related to hormone imbalances or related from issues in the pregnancy. Premature fusion of bones could restrict the growth and development of the brain. Head shape can be abnormal when the brain grows inside the fused skull.
Early closure of different types of sutures on the skull can result in different shapes of the head for example; early closure of metopic suture is called trigonocephaly, and sagittal suture is called scaphocephaly. Closure of coronal sutures led to brachycephaly or short head. Depending on the affected sutures, the shape of the head and complications may vary in craniosynostosis.
Missing soft spots (fontanel) can be a noticeable symptom of craniosynostosis in babies. Surgical treatment is needed for relieving the fused sutures. Helmet therapy is usually done after the surgery to aim have a typical shape of the head.
How Long Will A Baby Need To Wear A Helmet?
The need for helmet therapy is identified around four to six months of age, and most babies wear helmets for a minimum of three months to remold the head. Babies need to wear a helmet all the time except for bathing or dressing time.
They need to wear helmets until their skull shape becomes normal. Some may need helmet therapy for a few months to correct the shape. However, the helmet therapy ends before the skull bones are fused. This may happen around one year of age, and beyond this period, helmet therapy is not effective in remodeling the head shape.
Is Helmet Therapy The Only Treatment To Correct Skull Shape?
Changing positions and physical therapy may help to deal with mild skull deformations. However, moderate and severe deformations require helmet remolding therapy or cranial orthosis.
- Increase the tummy time to reduce pressure on the head. However, do not let infants on their tummy without supervision since this may increase the SIDS risk.
- Lift and hold your baby regularly. This helps to avoid continuous pressure on the skull. Support the head of younger infants while holding them.
- Try to change the baby’s position to adjust the pressure on the flat spot. You may try to put them on the produced side of the head.
- Breastfeed on different sides to avoid pressure on flat spots.
- Play or interact with the baby from the direction they avoid giving pressure on flat spots, while turning their head towards you.
Flat spots may resolve themselves or with positional changes in many babies. Seek a pediatrician’s advice to know the requirement of helmet therapy to correct it.
Are Remolding Helmets Uncomfortable?
Helmet therapy may not cause pain or discomfort for babies. These helmets are custom-made to fit a baby’s head. As they are made using special material such as foam inside, it can be more comfortable than sports helmets.
Timely adjustment of the size helps avoid discomfort due to too tight a helmet. If your baby’s helmet seems to be readjusted, consult their doctor as soon as possible.
You may follow doctors’ recommendations to keep the helmet clean and replace it if required. Skin irritation and odor may occur if the helmet is worn on a wet head. You may let your baby’s hair dry well before wearing a helmet after the bath.
How Are Cranial Remolding Helmets Different From Other Helmets?
Cranial orthosis helmets are different from other childhood helmets used for sports, such as snowboarding or biking. Sports helmets are designed to protect children from fall or hit injuries during sports. These helmets may come in average head sizes of children.
Usually, pediatricians refer babies with large flat spots or other misshapen skull shapes to pediatric orthotists for further evaluation. Specialists examine the baby’s head, and if there is a requirement for helmet therapy, they will create a custom helmet.
A laser light or mold is used to measure the baby’s head size and shape and a helmet is made according to the measurements. These helmets are designed to adjust sizes during the entire therapy process as the baby’s head size and shape change. They are used to reshape the skull but not to protect from head injuries.
Skull deformities such as flat spots do not interfere with a baby’s brain growth and development. They do not relate to any other medical issues as well. Uncorrected skull deformity can be a cosmetic concern for the child in the future, especially when they reach teen years. A severe misshape can affect social and mental wellbeing in some children. You may seek pediatrician advice to choose the best management based on the deformity’s size and severity.
2. Cranial Remolding; Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta
3. Baby Helmet Therapy; Healthychildren; The American Academy of Pediatrics