Infants who experience skull flattening may have best results if they start helmet therapy sooner rather than later, according to new research.

By Zara Husaini Hanawalt
August 02, 2017
girl with plagiocephaly
Credit: Shutterstock

If your baby's skull appears to be flattening out due to sleeping on his back, you may be tempted to wait and see if the problem resolves itself—after all, seeing your tiny baby in a helmet so early on can be a really tough thing for a parent to witness.

But according to new research, helmet therapy may be most effective when it's implemented early on—more specifically, a new study suggested it's best to start before your infant hits 24 weeks.

This research was published in Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery and was based on the observation of helmet therapy in 144 infants. The infants studied were divided into three groups: The subjects in the first group began wearing their helmets before they hit 24 weeks; the second group started between 24 and 32 weeks old; and the third group began after 32 weeks.

According to the study, helmet therapy appeared to be successful across the board, with reduction of mild-to-moderate skull flattening (which is clinically known as plagiocephaly) seen across all three groups sampled. However, those who started therapy before 24 weeks had the greatest success, with 83 percent of the infants in this group seeing success in reduction of flattening. By contrast, 69 percent of those who started between 24 and 32 weeks had positive results, while only 40 percent of the infants who began helmet therapy after 32 weeks had these results.

Infants who had more severe cases of plagiocephaly also saw similar results: 50 percent of those who started before 24 weeks, 30 percent of those who started between 24 and 32 weeks, and 7 percent of those who started after 32 weeks had success.

This research introduces a new idea—the researchers point out that, while there is the idea that earlier initiation of this therapy is best, there's been debate about when this sort of intervention should begin. Of course, every child needs to be evaluated by experts before beginning helmet therapy, and starting before 24 weeks may not be the right option for every child.

"Age and severity have a very significant effect on the reduction in skull asymmetry with helmet therapy. Our study includes an equation that the treating surgeon or physician can use to provide an individualized estimate of the expected reduction in skull asymmetry with helmet therapy," researcher Felix Kunz, DMD, said in a Wolters Kluwer release for this news.

The bottom line? If you're concerned about skull flattening in your baby, schedule a time to chat with his or her doctor—and if you choose to proceed with the treatment, consider taking a cue from this sweet family!