Baby Needs a Helmet? 13 Things Every Mom Needs to Know
Baby needs a helmet? This post shares 13 things parents should know about cranial helmets in babies.
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If you’re here, I would guess there’s a pretty good chance that (a) your doctor might have suggested that your baby needs a helmet or (b) your baby already has a helmet. Either way, you’re in the right place.
I’m a mom to two boys who are 17 months apart and both of them needed helmets. Not only do I know the ins and outs of the process, but I know how hard emotionally and mentally it can be on you to have a child wear a helmet because I’ve been there… twice. (You can read more about my story to two babies who wore helmets here).
So as a fellow mom whose had two babies wear helmets, let me tell you some things you need to know.
1. It’s not your fault.
Trust me, I’ve heard it all. There is so much stuff being said out there about babies and helmets, but you are not the source of blame for your baby’s head shape. It’s complicated; it could’ve been womb positioning or the rock-hard mattress your significant bought (not placing blame here at all, lol) or it could be that their skull was just more malleable than most babies.
There’s lots of talk that flat heads in babies are caused by too much time in Rock N’Plays and I’ve got two things to say about that. With my first child, we didn’t even have a Rock N’ Play and he still had brachycephaly. And second, for every kid that needs a helmet that used a Rock N Play, there’s a LOT more that didn’t need one.
The fact is, at the end of the day placing blame doesn’t change anything. If your baby’s head is flat (or asymmetrically shaped) and you need to do something about it.
2. Getting a helmet will *probably* be harder on you than it is on your baby.
Most babies don’t mind wearing the helmet. My oldest son is a super sensitive kid, he hates tight clothes or the car seat straps being too tight, but he had no problems wearing a helmet. They just get used to it. Neither of my kids seemed to mind the helmet.
Honestly as my kids got closer to 1 year old, I was grateful for helmet. They were crawling around, banging their heads on things and it was actually nice that they had some protection.
The disclaimer here is that on rare occasions, some babies hate their helmets or are allergic to them. If this happens, I’m sure your orthotics team would help you work through the problems.
3. There are other options (besides a helmet) to fix your baby’s head shape.
I think it’s only fair to mention that there are a couple of alternatives to getting your baby a helmet. Depending on your child’s age, you could try physical therapy. They should be able to suggest positions and ways to hold your baby to try to let it round out on its own. Another option is chiropractic care and the last is doing nothing and hoping it corrects it itself. As with any medically related decision, you should research your options and ultimately make the best decision for both your baby and your family.
At the end of the day, the choice is completely up to you and I get it, it’s a complicated decision. But, if you want your child to have the best success at correcting their head shape, you have got to make a decision early. You have very little time to sit around and see if it resolves on its own.
4. Getting a helmet is time sensitive.
Do everything you can to get your baby’s helmet before they turn 6 months old. It’s not the end of the world if they get it at 8 months (my first son did), but the younger they are, the more potential there is for growth and the better their chances of getting good results from the helmet.
The closer your baby gets to one year old, the slower their growth curve. Most babies end their helmet journey close to the 1 year old mark because the improvements in head shape tend to be relatively small after this time frame. It’s not to say that your baby can’t wear a helmet after 1 year old, but generally speaking, most kids are done.
It’s also worth mentioning that at some point, your child might even outgrow their helmet. Depending on where they are in the process and how much improvement they’ve made, there’s a chance you’ll be recommended a second helmet.
5. Helmets are usually not covered by insurance and they can be expensive.
It’s incredibly unfortunate, but a lot of insurance companies deem infant helmets for plagiocephaly or brachycephaly *cosmetic.* Research is pointing to helmets being more than cosmetic, with adult plagiocephaly and brachycephaly leading to increased chances of vision and ear problems, in addition to other problems.
There are several different companies that make infant helmets (Docband, Starband, and Cranial technologies to name a few) and all have different pricing. We had a Starband and if insurance doesn’t cover it, the cost from our provider was $1800 out of pocket. I know that’s a lot of money to come up with, especially with all the other baby related expenses, but it’s your baby’s head and it’s something visible and apparent for the rest of their lives.
As mentioned the decision to get a helmet is time sensitive and the longer you wait, the less effective it will be. If you know you’re going to get a helmet but are hesitating because of money, I suggest you just do it (if you can find a way), because you want to get the maximum benefit out the helmet and your investment.
I do have a little advice if money is a primary concern. United Healthcare does have grants available for families meeting certain eligibility requirements. (You do not have to have a United Healthcare plan to apply.)
Additionally, if insurance denies your claim, you can appeal it. It doesn’t cost anything and if you write a strong enough letter and get some strong recommendation letters from your pediatrician, you stand a chance to get it covered.
When I called to see if insurance would cover my first son’s helmet, they told me that they wouldn’t, but then by some miracle, they ended up covering it. With my second child, insurance initially claimed they wouldn’t cover the cost, so we appealed and won. Our situation was a little complicated, but I won’t get into that here. Just know that you can appeal and that you have to be persistent. Call the insurance company a lot and let them know that you aren’t going anywhere. With any luck, they might give up and give in. No guarantees, but it is worth a try.
6. Ask your orthotics team questions.
If you don’t understand what’s going on, don’t be afraid to ask. Ask what your babies measurements mean and how your baby’s head is in comparison to average values. They should let you know the severity; mild, moderate, or severe. The more you understand these numbers, the more exciting the process is because you will start to look forward to monthly appointments to see how they improved.
7. Treat the helmet like you would any other medical device, like a brace or prescription medicine.
The helmet is only going to work if you take it seriously and have your baby wear it as directed.
8. Make the helmet fun.
As I mentioned, both of my babies had helmets. With the first, I painted a yellow helmet to look like a minion, using acrylic paint and sealing it with ModgePodge. The other helmet I got wrapped by a car wrapping shop (check your area, some of these places will wrap helmets for free as a courtesy). Additionally, there’s a company that specializes in making stickers for helmets called Bling Your Band. Just have fun with the helmet and enjoy it for what it is. The time will pass.
9. The helmet is going to smell and your baby is going to be a little sweaty.
After a week or two, it’s pretty much inevitable, the helmet will smell like sweat. Based on my experience, it doesn’t really matter what you use to clean it, it’s still going to stink a little.
10. People will look (or stare) at your baby when they’re wearing the helmet, but probably because they are so cute.
A lot of moms take it personal when people are staring at their baby’s helmet, but it’s not usually because they are judging you. Some look because they don’t understand and lots look because who doesn’t like to look at a cute baby?
11. You cannot take the helmet off for reasons related to YOU.
You cannot let your own personal desires or feelings get in the way. It’s tempting to take your baby’s helmet off for family events or social outings (or whatever), but you cannot. Babies grow so quickly, you do not want to miss a growth spurt.
There are a few exceptions where your baby should have their helmet off but your orthotics team will explain those to you when you get the helmet (like a fever or an open wound).
12. The time your baby is in their helmet will feel like forever when they’re wearing it, but when it’s over, it will seem like a distant memory.
At the end of both of my children’s helmet journeys, I was beyond ready to get their helmets off. I kept noticing how cute their little faces were without the helmet and I was getting antsy. I wanted to see them all the time without their helmets.
Don’t be tempted, they need to wear their helmet until your orthotics technician or doctor tells you that you can stop.
13. Your child will thank you for doing this when they grow up.
When your child grows up, they will not remember wearing the helmet. It’s us, as parents that think of the helmet as a burden and carry the stress of it. But when your son or daughter grows up and their head shape is what some would describe as normal, they will be forever grateful that you carried this burden for them.
At the end of the day, my take home message to you is that fixing your child’s head shape is time sensitive, it’s not something you can sit around and think about or wait to see if it resolves on its own. If you can make it work, you should get an appointment with an orthotics lab as soon as you can (you usually need to start the process with a recommendation from your pediatrician.)
As a parent, the helmet is a burden, but your baby probably won’t even notice it. Enjoy this process for what it is, bond with our parents going through the same process. When you’re done, smile and reassure other mom’s with babies in helmets, telling them you’ve been there and that they’re doing a great job.
At the end of the day, we all want the best for our kids, so do your research and make the best decision for your child.
If you have any questions about the helmet process I would be more than happy to lend an ear. If you want more details on how I painted my first son’s helmet or what the actual process of getting a helmet was like, just let me know. I wish you the very best on this quick journey.