“Janie was born with the most beautiful, round head, and I couldn’t stop kissing it,” said her mother, Kandace Sherman.
Moms quickly learn the details of their newborns – from their features to newly forming habits. It wasn’t long before Janie’s family noticed she mostly slept on her right side, and her head wasn’t quite as round as when she was first born.
Janie developed plagiocephaly, a condition characterized by a flat spot on the side of her head due to her sleeping patterns. Similarly, brachycephaly is noticed when the back of a baby’s head is flat or wider than it is long. While both conditions can lead to misaligned ears, asymmetrical facial features or a bulging forehead that could last a lifetime, both are treatable when caught soon enough. These conditions are not merely cosmetic; developmental delays are linked to these irregularities, if left untreated.
“A baby’s head is not fully fused at birth,” said Matthew Kirby, a certified prosthetist orthotist with CarePartners Orthotics & Prosthetics.
While this feature helps during the birthing process, it makes a baby’s head so malleable that even gentle pressures can change a newborn’s natural head shape.
Forces at Work
Laying babies in the same position, combined with time spent in rigid baby carriers or car seats, increases the chances of head shape irregularities in infants. About 50 percent of babies now have these irregularities.
For Janie, muscles in her neck tightened on one side, causing her to look and sleep with her head to the right, creating a flat spot on that side of her head. The Shermans knew they needed to do something.
Cranial remodeling reshapes a baby’s head as it grows. The team at CarePartners Orthotics & Prosthetics custom fit a specially made helmet to their tiny patient’s head. The helmet holds the high spots in place while flat spots are reshaped by the helmet as the baby’s head grows.
“We urge anyone with an infant to look closely, because this can be corrected, especially if it’s caught early enough,” said Kirby.
“It’s been amazing. Janie’s head is almost within normal limits,” said Sherman. Babies are treated between three to 18 months, while their heads are still growing.
“It’s best if we first see patients who are three to five months old,” said Kirby. “We can make considerable corrections when the most significant head growth occurs during baby’s first nine months.” If parents keep helmets on for 23 hours per day, most babies can be corrected within four to five months.
“We have very high success rates,” said Kirby. “And because the Shermans were diligent, Janie made incredible progress.” Soon she will be able to take off her helmet for the last time.
It starts with a referral from your pediatrician. Experts like Kirby take measurements at the first visit to determine the size, shape and severity of irregularities. A 3D image of your baby’s head is used to create a custom helmet. Regular follow ups during treatment ensure steady progress is made. Treatment is covered by most insurance.
Tummy time, repositioning and other habits can reduce time and pressures on your baby’s head while it is pliable. Newer car seats have been designed to eliminate the pressure on the back of a baby’s head for parents who want added precautions.
“We were a little concerned we wouldn’t be able to kiss our baby’s head during treatment, but she’s done so well. It’s been worth it,” said Sherman.
Matthew Kirby is a certified prosthetist orthotist with CarePartners Orthotics & Prosthetics.