Should my baby use a helmet for his flat head?

Q: A pediatric neurologist recommended our son wear a helmet for his flat head, but I've heard that the condition can correct itself. What should we do?

A: It's not surprising that you've heard dissenting opinions, since there's some controversy surrounding the use of helmets to treat positional plagiocephaly (also known as flattened head syndrome). Babies' skulls are naturally soft to allow their brains to grow, but this leaves their heads vulnerable to being molded when they lie in the same position for long periods. Because it's now recommended that babies sleep on their backs (this can significantly reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDS), the number of babies developing flattened head syndrome is definitely on the rise -- but positional plagiocephaly is easy to treat and is usually corrected by the time a baby turns 1.

Whether or not you decide to use a helmet should depend largely on your child's age and the severity of the problem. For babies under 6 months, the condition will often correct itself with 30 minutes of tummy time each day for a few months; this 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, 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, wearing a helmet may be useful. It can often correct the problem quickly and does not cause any harm to the child.

The helmets are usually made of plastic and look a lot like 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 lot, the problem will be corrected much faster if you follow instructions. Most babies are not bothered by the helmet and easily adapt to wearing it.

Copyright 2009 Meredith Corporation.


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