Infant flat head syndrome (plagiocephaly, brachiocephaly) has been a hot topic for several years. And if you’re a parent, odds are you’ve probably heard that plenty of tummy time, mat play opportunities, repositioning and freedom from constrained positions (car seats) will help prevent flat spots from forming. So what happens if you do all these things but your child still develops flattening? We asked one Kids Physio Group parent, Katie, to share her experience; one that’s all-too-common!
“Shortly after my daughter was born, I remember remarking to our Midwife about how ‘coney’ her head was. We were reassured that it would round out over time. Time passed and while it got better, it never got that round shape that all the other babies around us seemed to have. We started doing all the things that Dr. Google told us to do – switching directions in the crib, tummy time despite the screaming, avoiding long car rides, etc. but it just never really got any rounder.
Fortunately, more obsessive Googling also led me to Laura Patrick at Kids Physio Group in East Vancouver. Laura was lovely and obviously knowledgeable about plagiocephaly and brachiocephaly. She explained that you have a brief window to treat head shape issues and, like most things, early intervention is key. The measurements she took showed that our baby was just on the edge of the normal range. Given that our little one was still young, Laura suggested we try some positioning changes and strengthening exercises first before considering other interventions.
Some weeks later, things weren’t improving, so Laura suggested we meet with Jason Goodnough, an Orthotist, to get his opinion on whether or not to fit her with a headband or, as we called it, a ‘helmet.’
I won’t lie, the decision to go with the helmet wasn’t easy. I was embarrassed. What would people think? That I had done this to my kid by not giving her enough tummy time? That I was some neurotic helicopter-mom who put their baby in a crash helmet? I was so proud of my beautiful baby girl. Would people laugh at her and her helmet? I tried to justify my reservations by thinking that a flat head was just an esthetic issue and it would be wrong to put her in a helmet for the sake of vanity. Ultimately, I knew my reluctance was about my own ego. I was the one being vain.
Our daughter wore her helmet for about sixteen weeks. We were amazed when she had no trouble adjusting to it at all. I was surprised how many strangers asked about it when we were out. A quick reply that we were fixing a flat spot on her head usually satisfied their curiosity. I started making little appliqués made of felt that I stuck to her helmet with velcro. After all, when life hands you lemons – accessorize!! She soon had a collection of flowers, ladybugs, hearts, etc. I held back tears when a mom in our Mother Goose group even surprised us with a flower she had crocheted for her. It was fun and it changed the conversations I was having with strangers to being about how cute her appliqués were, rather than what was wrong with my baby.
Perhaps the best part of the whole experience was having the opportunity to help other parents who were struggling with the same issue. While our little one was in her helmet, quite a few parents and grandparents approached me to talk about the concerns they were having. My husband and I felt like we had hit the jackpot with the great care we had found through Kids Physio Group and Jason Goodnough – particularly the fact that there was no wait-list, the turnaround time to get her helmet was very quick and their offices were so conveniently located. Jason explained that the helmet he provided was easier to fit than the one at the public clinic because it was transparent plastic. I was really happy to tell other people about this option – so much so I started carrying Jason’s business cards in my wallet to hand out to people! Working in public health, I also talked to some of my public health nursing colleagues about my experience so that they had another place to refer parents who had extended health plans.
It’s been six months since our daughter graduated from wearing her helmet and we are so glad we made the choice we did. Looking at old photos, we can’t believe the change. And, just like the crawling stage, or the spitting up stage, those sixteen weeks of treatment feel like such a blip in the life of our feisty, funny little girl. It’s been said a million times but parenting teaches you a lot. Parenting lesson #3681: Being a parent is not about you – it’s about what’s best for your kid, no matter what people think. If you’re worried about the shape of your baby’s head, or struggling with the decision of whether or not to use a helmet, I really recommend a visit with a pediatric physiotherapist at Kids Physio Group to talk through your options.”
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