Nearly 20 percent of babies now develop some skull flattening, thanks to the back-only sleeping arrangement that helps protect them from sudden infant death syndrome. And the treatment for a flattened skull has been a pricey, custom-fitted helmet, that the baby was meant to wear 23 hours a day to help round out the head. (They often range from $1,000 to $3,000!)
Except, according to the most recent study, all that helmet wearing hasn't helped a whole lot. Researchers at the University of Twente in the Netherlands randomly assigned 84 babies with mild to moderate skull flattening to one of two groups—either they wore helmets, or they didn't. When an independent researcher, who was given no information about who wore helmets and who didn't, evaluated their head shape two years later, there was no significant difference in the results between the groups.
"There are definitely cases of infants with mild to moderate skull deformation who are treated with helmet therapy, and this study confirms and reaffirms that this is not necessary," said Dr. James J. Laughlin, who helped write the American Academy of Pedatrics' stance on the use of helmets. Keep in mind, though, that kids with more severe skull shape issues were excluded from this study—and experts say that the helmets are still an important part of treating babies who have extensive skull flattening.
So what does work for less-severe skull flattening? According to the New York Times article on the study, you should reposition your baby's head while they're sleeping, so it's turned slightly to the right or to the left and not flat back. When your baby's awake, give her lots of tummy time, and don't let her sit too long in an infant seat. (Yet another point in favor of carrying around that little ball of deliciousness—you'll put less pressure on that skull!)
If you're currently using a helmet, this doesn't mean you should ditch it! Your pediatrician will be able to give you the best perspective on what will benefit your baby most.
Tell us: Has your baby used one of these helmets? Do you think it helped with the skull flattening?
Image: Girl in orthopedic helmet by Darren Brode/Shutterstock.com