Monday, June 20, 2011

Hey Mom, Why Does Your Kid Wear that Football Helmet?

Childbirth, we all pray for it to be easy, but I was one of the not-so-lucky ones. I had a long and painful labor, my son was stuck against my pelvic bone for hours, and when he was finally suctioned out, his head was severely misshapen. Many kids come out with crooked heads, isn’t this what that hoodie in the hospital is for? “Give it a few weeks, the doctors say”. Well, I gave it a few months, and the condition only got worse. My son developed severely restricted head and neck movement, which in turn resulted in hearing problems and infections that we are still dealing with 18 months later.

So what is this called? The condition is called plagiocephaly, Greek for “an oblique head”; plagiocephaly results from external forces applied to a soft and malleable infant skull. This can be the result of childbirth, but can also develop from a number of external circumstances such as sleeping on the back with little tummy time, or only turning the head in one direction due to torticollis (restriction of the neck muscles), and prolonged use of an infant car seat, carrier, or swing (perhaps due to reflux). Whatever the case, many of us are mistakenly told by our pediatricians that the asymmetry will fix itself. However, in moderate or severe cases, this is untrue. Sure, the child’s hair will grow and perhaps the deformity will be slightly camouflaged, but this condition is not one that is self-correcting.

So what does this mean? Many people, including some insurance companies, also believe that plagiocephaly is merely a cosmetic problem. This is not the case, facial asymmetry can cause eating and chewing problems, vision problems, and in my son’s case, hearing problems and ear infections. This is a medical condition, and one that as parents, we should probably be aware of. Well, we all know that babies need to sleep on their backs and ride in infant carriers while in the car, so what treatments are available to assist in correcting the head shape? The child will most likely have to wear a custom-fit helmet or band for 23 hours a day for several months to correct the problem. The helmet, though it looks obtrusive, is quite lightweight and rarely bothers the child. My son actually cried when we took his off! The specialist will cast a mold of the child’s head to develop a band for the child that will slowly correct the deformity through constant pressure. The band will be adjusted weekly to accommodate growth and development. Many children are treated after two or three months, though some will wear their head accessory for as long as six months. Treatment is most successful if started between 4 and 6 months; however, a child can start treatment at as late as 18 months. Additionally, physical therapy is also affective in reinforcing the treatment.

So, the next time you see a child running around in a white or painted helmet that looks like they may be a baby wrestler or football player, you will now know that that child is being treated for plagiocephaly. And moms and dads, if this happens to your child, please learn the facts, know that this is a medical condition and does require attention, but also know that it can be treated without painful or intrusive surgery, and most important, know that this is not your fault. Let’s educate one another, our doctors, and our insurance companies. Stay aware of your child’s development and be proactive in his treatment. And hey, look at the bright side, I was actually thankful during a few baby tumbles that my child was well protected in his headgear! And the bands are a great way for your child to express his individuality.

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{Originally posted on RichmondMommies}

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