When my first son was born, the first thing I heard before I saw him was the nurse asking “was this baby breech?” When you have a C section you expect the perfect little round head over the cone shape you often get with vaginal births. Well, didn’t happen here. My baby’s head was squished under my ribs forever. They had to twist and turn to get him out! I could feel it. His little head was crooked. His lips didn’t even line up when he closed his mouth. They told me in the hospital it would get better.
At 12 weeks we had a lactation consultant come in to check for ties. She mentioned torticollis to me. That took us down a path of twice weekly PT for about 9 months. At first I wasn’t super worried about his head shape. At about 5 months old or so, the PT asked if I had considered a helmet. I hadn’t really, I still expected it to get better as he started moving and sitting up. Still I ended up making an appointment at one of the big cranial helmet companies.
As I was in the waiting room, I heard the entire consult with another family in a room right beside me, through the closed door. The man was telling them how the back to sleep campaign has caused so many bad shaped heads and that they should have done more tummy time, etc. It was close to blaming the baby’s head shape on the family. Then he went on to talk about how they don’t have to worry because he can fix what they have done. It didn’t sit well with me. When it was our turn, as soon as he came in, he started giving me the same speech. I interrupted at one point to tell him about how the baby was breech and his head had improved a ton and he gets tons of tummy time, but he wasn’t having it. He just continued on implying it was my fault. Before he left the room, he mentioned my neighborhood and how it is expensive but a helmet is not that much money for my child’s entire life.
I was so turned off I wanted to vomit. They measured him at 16mm asymmetry, severe in their opinion. They loaded me down with tons of documents and quoted one study that said heads don’t improve on their own. I left there feeling almost taken advantage of. I only want what is best for my kid, I love him with all of my heart, and I felt like they were playing off that. I went home and did a ton of research. I found the study they mentioned and I don’t recall specifics but it was a super small study. I couldn’t find a lot to support their claim that he would have jaw problems and ear infections and helmets would never fit him right. But I also couldn’t find any posts from parents who chose not to helmet or a lot of data to show what happens if you don’t.
I went to the pediatrician to get an opinion. The caveat is that my pediatrician had left that practice and for other reasons related to where he went, I wasn’t going to go with him. The person I saw that day seemed confused about why I was there and basically said, if they think you need a helmet, get a helmet. I asked for a referral to a neurosurgeon or someone who can provide an opinion. They literally looked at me like I was crazy, rolling their eyes between two of them and gave me a brochure for the same helmet place I had just been to. I went home steaming mad (and btw went back to my original pediatrician who I love to this day).
As soon as I got home I started researching. I live in the NYC area, and it turns out, there are neurosurgeons who have plagiocephally clinics! I wasn’t so damn crazy afterall. I went to Cornell’s plagiocephally clinic, ran by their chief of pediatric neurosurgery, and saw a wonderful female doctor. She checked out my son, explained that heads grow like a deflated basketball when you add air back, filling out one area then another. She wasn’t wishy washy at all, said absolutely No you don’t need a helmet. My son is now almost 4 and looks great. I will add pictures to this post eventually to show the difference.
To be clear, I have nothing against helmets and I think everyone needs to make the best choice for them. I chose not to helmet for my son. I joined some Facebook groups and saw that many babies have rashes, dry skin patches and other complications from the helmet. Some don’t adjust well. You must go often to get it adjusted, and remember we were already doing PT 2 times a week. I just didn’t want to put him through all of that. He may have had to wear it 8 months, maybe 12 months. It was a lot. Also, I saw so many moms who were unhappy with the helmet’s result. Maybe they went from 16mm to 12mm and that wasn’t enough for them. I didn’t want to put him through all of that for a result that is that slight. Also there was a lot of data suggesting that helmeting exacerbates torticollis, which I knew had to be the focus of treatment.
The icing for me was the obsession. I saw so many moms who were not satisfied when they went from 16mm to 3mm. They were chasing absolute perfection and always being let down. I saw some take their second child for a helmet as a given, even when that child measured only 8mm off at 3 months. I didn’t want to become obsessive about the head shape. I wanted to enjoy my son and I trusted the doctor at Cornell, though to be honest, it was hard. It was very hard to let it go and have faith that it would be Ok. That is because we all want the best for our kids and making a decision is scary – it is either the right or wrong choice every single time.
If you are in the situation where you are deciding whether to helmet or not, I feel for you. It’s a hard choice. I really believe it will be OK no matter what choice you make. Some kids do great in helmets, don’t even mind them and their results are fantastic. Some kids helmet with little result but by age 3 look fantastic. And some kids don’t get the helmet and also look fantastic by age 3.
What I learned was overall it wasn’t worth the stress and agonizing I did over the decision.