At my first son Jack’s 4 month check up, I clearly remember how I felt when our pediatrician pointed out that my son’s head was forming a flat spot. Specifically, the flat spot was on the backside of his head and was slightly off center.
This observed skull shape likely indicated that Jack was preferentially laying with his head looking slightly to the right. The official diagnosis for Jack’s case was plagiocephaly. A diagnosis of plagiocephaly indicates that the skull is asymmetrically shaped with a flattening on one side.
Our pediatrician recommended that we do our best to lay our son in the swing or crib with his head looking the opposite direction (to the left), gave us a recommended way to hold him during feedings, and suggested starting physical therapy to see if his head shape would correct on its own. She mentioned that if his head didn’t round out by 6 months, we may need to get him evaluated for a helmet.
On the ride home from that appointment, I remember snapping at my husband. He brought up something else that was mentioned during the appointment (maybe weight gain or milestones), and I snapped back, “How you can you be worried about that, she said that he might need a helmet.”
When I got home, I looked at the summary paper we’d been given for the appointment. At the bottom it mentioned that my son might have positional plagiocephaly, and the parents were given recommendations of activities to do, including physical therapy.
The guilt immediately kicked in.
It’s my fault.
My fault my child needs a helmet.
I didn’t hold him enough. He spent too much time in the swing. I should’ve carried him in the baby carrier more.
A few days later, when I went to pick Jack up from daycare, I mentioned to one of my favorite teachers that our pediatrician had brought up that Jack might need a helmet. I asked her what her thoughts were, as I highly respected her. She had 3 kids of her own and had taken care of so many babies as a daycare teacher. And quite honestly, I knew she would respectfully tell it like it is.
I remember her clearly saying, “Jack probably could benefit from a helmet.”
My heart sunk. An unbiased, trusted outside source was agreeing that my son might need a helmet.
Here’s the part of the story where I urge you to be better than me. After that, I never followed up on a physical therapy consult – I just ignored the doctor’s suggestion. I also regretfully didn’t even snap a clear picture of the back of Jack’s head because I was so ashamed. Ashamed because I felt guilty and embarrassed that he needed a helmet.
Here’s the best picture I can find that shows Jack’s head is somewhat coned a the top.
At Jack’s 6 month check up, we got the referral to Children’s Hospital, where an X-ray would be done and it would be determined if Jack needed a helmet. The short story is that he was found to have mild to moderate positional plagiocephaly and the decision to move forward with the helmet was up to us.
My father-in-law once told me that one of the hardest things you have to do as a parent is recognize your child’s weaknesses and figure out ways to help them.
It would have been very easy to decide that Jack didn’t need a helmet, because of my own selfishness. But as a parent, I knew deep down that Jack’s life could be easier and sadly maybe even better for him if I got him a helmet, to round out the shape of his head.
Boys can’t cover their heads with hair as easily with girls. And if you dig into the scientific literature on plagiocephaly, you’ll find that there are some troublesome conditions that occur more frequently in people that have untreated plagiocephaly (like increased ear infections, dental problems, etc).
So we decided to get Jack a helmet. At that point (since I’m big on saving money), I called insurance to see if they would cover it. They adamantly said they would not.
My guilt kicked in even more. If insurance didn’t cover the cost of the helmet, the company we were getting the helmet from charged $1800.
Wow that’s a lot of money.
By some chance that is probably equivalent to winning the lottery – insurance covered his helmet in full.
So we went through with it. We got the helmet (a Starband) almost a month after our the X-rays at Children’s Hospital, meaning Jack started wearing his helmet around 8 months old. Here’s a post where I share the 13 things every mom with a baby in a helmet needs to know.
Below you can see a picture at Jack where they are taking his measurements for the helmet.
In my journey of having two kids with helmets, I now know that that was on the late end of a baby getting a helmet. Ideally it seems best to try to get the helmet right around 6 months old, so you can catch more of the growth spurts. At nearly 1 year old, the growth of babies’ heads starts to taper off and the benefit of the helmet starts to dimmish.
We decided to embrace the helmet for what is was. We got Jack a yellow helmet and I paind it to look like a minion.
A few days after I painted it, we went out to eat at a restaurant and I remember feeling like all the people were staring at Jack. I was so self conscious. When we went to walk out of the restaurant, people started stopping me, saying how cute Jack was and how cute he was in his helmet. I started to not feel as guilty.
Something else that greatly helped with my guilt was seeing another baby in Jack’s class also wearing a helmet. It was such a relief to not feel so alone.
Jack wore his helmet for 4 months. He “graduated” right around a year old.
Was his head perfect in shape by the standards for perfect heads? Nope. Was it closer? Yes.
Do I regret getting a helmet for Jack? Never. I know that was the right choice for us and the right choice for Jack. I feel like if I hadn’t gotten the helmet and if later in life Jack asked me about his head shape, I would regret not doing everything I could to have helped him.
I will add that I do have a second son, Henry, who also needed a helmet. He had severe brachycephaly. Getting Henry a helmet was a no brainer. Henry actually got his helmet closer to the 6 month mark. We had his helmet wrapped at a business that does car wraps – that was a lower maintainence option (as I had to continuously Mod Podge Jack’s). Henry’s head showed a significant improvement while wearing the helmet.
So what’s the take away message? I beg you to please not feel guilty for getting your baby a helmet. If your child needed braces, would you get them? If your child needed a brace for their leg, would you get one and make sure they wore it? The shape of your baby’s head is not your fault. Let me say that again – if your baby needs a helmet, it is NOT YOUR FAULT. Like you always do, make the choice that is right for your family and you will have no regrets.