Babies have soft, squishy, and malleable heads that allow their brains to grow. This leaves their skulls vulnerable to being molded when they lie in the same position for long periods, like in the crib, car seat, or even the womb. The resulting condition is called plagiocephaly (or flat head syndrome) and it's defined by flatness on the back or side of the head.
Because it's now recommended that babies sleep on their backs to reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), the number of babies developing flat head syndrome is definitely on the rise. Thankfully, plagiocephaly doesn’t cause neurological damage, and home remedies usually fix the issue. In some cases, however, a plagiocephaly helmet is needed.
Plagiocephaly helmets use pressure to mold a baby’s soft skull, correcting the misshapen head. They’re usually made of plastic with a foam lining, and they look similar to a kid's bicycle helmet. Depending on his condition, your baby may wear the helmet for a month or two to as long as six months. Most doctors will instruct you to leave the helmet on for 23 hours each day, removing it only for bathtime. Although this may seem like a lengthy process, flat head syndrome will be corrected much faster if you follow instructions. Most babies are not bothered by the helmet and easily adapt to wearing it.
Whether or not you decide to use a baby helmet should depend largely on your child's age and the severity of the problem. For babies under 6 months, plagiocephaly will often correct itself with 30 minutes of tummy time each day for a few months; tummy time keeps your baby out of the position that's causing the misshapenness. (It's important that you continue to put your baby to sleep on his back to prevent SIDS, although your doctor may encourage you to gently reposition his head once he's lying down.) For babies older than 6 months and those with very severe cases of flat head syndrome, wearing a helmet may be useful. It can often correct the problem quickly and does not cause any harm to the child.