Helmet Head

Have you seen kids with their very own crash helmets?

The infant helmet, also known as my rabbit hole of doom. I’ve been clawing myself out of this black hole of mommy blogs, message boards, and voices chattering on every tiny aspect of this topic. I’ve seen big red no-smoking sign images with the helmets in the middle of them, reading “STOP this Pandemic!” I’ve read stories about how helmets have changed the lives of little ones and their parents for all the better. Pictures of flowery, glittery, super hero-y helmets painted and customized crowned on smiling babies. I’m convinced I’ve read everything the internet has to offer, on pros and cons and general mommy-war-wisdom.

I’m still not convinced either way.

Our pediatrician took a long, hard look at our daughters head at her two month appointment, and told us to start re-positioning her, lest we end up needing one of those “$4000 helmets.” We, being data driven, type A, slightly compulsive people, started peppering him with questions about re-positioning. Is it better to keep weight off of her head completely? Or should we try to put pressure on the spot that isn’t flat? What happens with her crib? Can we put a small towel underneath the sheet to try and keep her from sleeping on the wrong side?

He looked at us, probably thinking something along the lines of “crazy first time parents” and took a deep breath. “You know, I don’t really know the answer to all of the specifics. Why don’t you call the specialists and I’m sure they can give you a ton of tips.”

And that, my friends, was when the chaos started.

We called, and it’s true that they gave us tons of tips. They also offered to have us bring her in, that they’d scan her for free and then we can at least have one set of data to see what we are working with. Again, being data lovers, we happily agreed.

“This child needs a helmet. You can wait and come back here in a month and I’ll still be saying the same thing. Maybe I’m wrong, maybe she’ll surprise me, but I’m really never wrong. And don’t start yourselves with the guilt story, it’s her neck – see the tilt?” She spat this at us without taking a breath. “If you don’t do this, she will have vision problems, jaw problems, hearing problems. See how her ears are misaligned? She will never be able to wear a bicycle helmet or have normal glasses.” This last part as she stared at me directly in the face, my pink and black plastic rims staring back at her in disbelief.

Tears welled in my eyes and I sat there in shock, feeling bullied and scared. My husband took over and I composed myself to quickly talk to her about some stretches that we could do to help the torticollis (her neck muscles on one side were tight, which in the end, was the cause of all of this drama), and practically ran out of there, being promised an email containing the full file of all of the scan results and measurements.

As soon as we got back to the car, I burst into tears, sobbing uncontrollably. I spit venomous words about how they were money hungry pirates and why on earth are the “specialists” also the ones who stand to make money off of the sales of their product.

Over the next few weeks I let things sink in a little more. We told ourselves we would go back and get a new scan in a month, and if there wasn’t enough improvement for us to see that she was on the right track, we would talk.

We went back, got a second scan. It did show improvement, but not very much. She was still categorized as “severe.” Meanwhile, I had been killing myself trying to keep her looking one way but not the other, celebrating victory when she layed down to sleep on her “tight” side, something we had to work for weeks upon weeks for her to be able to do. We talked to her other pediatrician about it, who said that yes, she could absolutely see the flat spot and the misshapen head, but that she was not concerned in the least. That she’d grow out of it by the time she was two, and that she’s never heard of that company NOT recommending a helmet.

So, that brings me to my internet data rabbit hole. Amongst all of the mommy chatter I did find some legit studies, both for (1, 2) and against (1, 2) these helmets.

My totally unscientific conclusion, taking into consideration all of the studies, all of the personal stories, all of the advice from our pediatrician and the specialists is that it will indeed, correct on it’s own. However, it could take years. The helmets seem to speed up the process, and what you get in 4-16 weeks with the helmet is what you would see in 2-5 years via nature.

Great right? We also decided that because of/in spite of this, we are getting the helmet.

I have a tendency to be compulsive, and I suffer from generalized anxiety. This has become my newest compulsion, and it’s just not healthy. Aside from that, unless we have a time machine (Doctor, I’m looking at you) we have no way of knowing if she will be one of the (very few) kids on the outliers of the studies who never does correct on her own. I don’t want to spend the next 2 years staring at her head and feeling guilty that I didn’t do everything I could for her when I had the chance. If it was my head, I could give a crap. But this is for her, and this is about setting aside biases to do what’s right for her. In the end, there’s no downside to the helmets aside from a sweaty, stinky headed baby. Are we happy about it? No. Do we feel like we are doing the right thing? Yes.

It's hard to photograph.

It’s hard to photograph.

I hope that in the future more research is done on this subject. It is far too easy to prey on a parent’s anxiety, and I fear that we are just another number on a sales form. Luckily insurance will pay for most of it, and as we are finding out, time passes so very quickly with a little one. It will be over in the blink of an eye, and all of us happier for it.

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