Have you ever seen a baby in headgear and wondered, but didn’t want to ask mom “Why do babies wear helmets?”
Also called a cranial orthotic, helmet therapy is a type of treatment prescribed for infants to help correct an abnormal skull shape.
About 75 percent of brain growth happens by age 2. To accommodate such rapid development, a baby’s skull is made up of soft plates that gradually harden and grow together. Helmets work by forcing the flat spot to round out.
Why would a baby need a helmet to help with skull growth?
The most common cause for helmets today is to treat positional plagiocephaly, or flat head syndrome.
A number of factors contribute to positional plagiocephaly. In most cases, the issue will fix itself by the time the child is 5 years old. But if a parent is concerned, a helmet can help properly shape the skull.
Not all children with an abnormal head shape have positional plagiocephaly. A small number have craniosynostosis, a condition that occurs when the skull bones abnormally fuse.
“Craniosynostosis, if not treated, can lead to an abnormal skull shape and restricted brain growth,” said Ian Mutchnick, M.D., neurosurgeon with Norton Children’s Hospital and Norton Neuroscience Institute. “We correct this condition by performing cranial surgery. Very few patients undergo helmet therapy after the operation.”
Babies typically wear a helmet 23 hours a day
For infants with a head shape deformity that comes from a tendency to turn their head to one side, physical therapy may be prescribed. When the parents want a helmet, it’s custom-made by a certified orthotist just for the child.
Most babies wear the helmet for 23 hours a day, seven days a week. Parents can remove it for an hour for bathing and cleaning. How long a baby needs to wear a helmet depends on how early the skull condition is diagnosed.
“A helmet before 6 months of age works great, between 6 and 9 months works well and really should not be considered after about 11 to 12 months,” Dr. Mutchnick said. “In general, a helmet is worn for two to four months.”