The effectiveness of treatment methods for plagiocephaly, brachycephaly and scaphocephaly vary based on the age of the baby and the severity of the deformity. The following information should give you an idea of the treatments available for your baby’s case.
Natural Treatment Methods (Tummy Time and Repositioning)
The use of natural treatment methods for cephalic disorders is recommended for babies who are younger than 6 months of age. Repositioning is most effective before 5-6 months of age, essentially before infants begin to move around a lot on their own. The best rule of thumb is, the earlier the better!
Once your baby can get around by scooting, sitting up, or rolling over independently, the most effective natural remedy will be tummy time. Additionally, doctors recommend limiting the amount of time spends on their backs during the day. General treatment strategies encourage parents to promote daytime activities for infants that do not involve much time spent lying on their backs. By one year of age, natural treatment methods are generally ineffective, since most children are able to crawl or walk by this point.
In 2008, Xia et al conducted a review of existing studies comparing the effectiveness of repositioning therapy vs. cranial orthosis (helmet or band therapy). They reviewed over 3,000 cases and determined that the most effective treatment for positional cranial deformations is helmet or band use, regardless of age or indicators that might suggest a child is better suited for repositioning therapy. The authors did express caution that the number of studies available is small, and the need for further research is necessary as a result of flaws in some of the studies they examined.
Many insurance companies require that parents try repositioning and physical therapy before proceeding to helmet therapy. The cost of helmeting without insurance support might be too high for many parents to proceed directly to helmeting, even if it would be the most effective treatment method for their child’s case.
Baby Helmet Therapy
A 2011 study on the outcome of cranial molding helmet therapy at various ages determined that the best outcomes were achieved when children began helmet therapy between the ages of 5 and 6 months. The authors of the study suggested that physical therapy alone should not be the first course of treatment in severe cases.
They advocated that helmet therapy in combination with physical therapy be used immediately in severe cases, since study participants with severe cranial deformations who began helmet therapy later did not manage to recover normal head shape. This does not mean that you cannot get good results from using a baby helmet if your infant is older than 6 months, especially if the case is not too severe.
Many parents whose children require helmet therapy are worried about long-term psychological effects. While it is possible that helmeted children recognize that they are somehow different, a 2008 study on the quality of life of children who had undergone helmet therapy discovered that 96% of patients and their families were satisfied with treatment results. Only two families had complaints regarding the treatment.
In one case, pressure spots and hair loss resulted from helmet use, and in another normal head shape was not regained. If you are worried about how your little one will handle helmet therapy if necessary, remember that there are many types of helmets and bands available, and several offer customizable patterns or colors that your child may like. The key is not to treat your child as if they are any different from other children. Decorating your baby’s helmet also helps other people accept the helmet more easily, and may make the child feel more normal.