When my twin babies were just a few months old, we were told that both of them had flat spots on their heads, and if we didn't intervene with physical therapy, they would likely need helmets. At the time, I was really upset, convinced it was my fault for letting them nap in their carseats. I posted about it back then...and got several nasty (and misinformed) comments that did nothing to ease my new Mom guilt.
We did months of physical therapy and stretches, tried repositioning, but in the end, none of it worked -- at 7 months old, they both got DOC Band helmets to help reshape their heads. To the haters out there, no, they didn't get plagiocephaly and brachycephaly because I didn't hold them enough. They got it because they were full-term twins with large heads, lodged in my small pelvis. And sleeping on their backs didn't help. We were encouraged by two separate doctors to get our boys the helmets. And I'm so glad we did.
After the response I got several months ago, I'll admit that I was reluctant to even post about this. And when both my pediatrician and a plagiocephaly expert told me that I should get my babies the helmets now, to improve their quality of life later, I balked at first. My babies weren't going to care, but were people going to see the helmets and assume that I was a bad mother who just left her babies in their car seats for hours on end? (For the record, they did sometimes take naps in them, and I often fed them their bottles in there when I was home alone. That's not what caused it though, so...the end of that discussion.) Would they come up to me and verbally assault me the way the comment-haters had? Of course, that concern lasted all of, oh, five minutes -- in the end, I obviously care a hell of a lot more about doing the right thing for my babies, than I care about what some mean-spirited (and clearly perfect) mother has to say about my parenting.
So why did I decide to do it? Yes, it was partially for cosmetic reasons -- I didn't want my one son to grow up with one eye being noticeably lower down and smaller than the other, and I wanted my other son to be able to get a short haircut one day, without feeling like a conehead. But there were physical considerations as well. One baby's brachycephaly had created so much wideness in his head, that he wouldn't be able to wear normal bike or baseball helmets. My other boy's head was so asymmetrical that it was creating a cross-bite that would likely cause jaw problems later in life. Obviously, these are things they could live with, but I was being presented with a solution, something short-term, non-invasive, and painless that would improve their lives later. Why wouldn't I seize the opportunity? The babies don't even notice it, they certainly aren't self-conscious about it -- is it any different than getting your child braces? And, luckily for us, our insurance covered the majority of it, which was a huge help, especially with twins. Yes, the helmets are expensive!
I'm not going to lie, the first day or two were rough. Both boys were hot, they had trouble sleeping, and one of my sons ended up with a raw spot on his forehead from the friction of his helmet. I remember on that first day, one of my babies couldn't fall asleep for his nap, crying and crying because he was so overtired. As I sat there in his room, rocking him and singing to him, with tears coming down both of our faces, I kept thinking, "Why did I do this to them? Why did I do this to them? Why did I do this them?"
Sure, the doctors had said this wasn't my fault, that the problem had been created while they were still in my cramped womb. And yes, I had done my very best with the physical therapy and the repositioning and their tummy time, but was there more I should have done? Should I have just put them to sleep on their stomachs? I couldn't help but feel guilty.
But, by the second morning, they were back to their old selves, and they've been totally, 100% fine with them ever since. It's like they had no idea there was a (relatively) big white helmet on their heads. That was the other thing I was eager to do -- decorate these damn things. For a week, when I would take the boys out in their helmets, I did notice that people would look at us a little strangely, like they weren't sure what was wrong with them. People would glance over, and instead of the usual excitement over twins, they'd get noticeably uncomfortable, smile at me, and then walk away. I mean, yes, it is strange to see a little baby in a helmet, and the stark white, spacesuit quality of them made it all seem very clinical.
So, I found a local artist who actually has a whole business painting DOC Bands, for families all over the country. Yeah, we pimped their helmets, and they look awesome. We certainly still get our fair share of weird looks, but they are brightly-colored and fun -- works of art, rather than medical supplies. One boy has a race car and a racing stripe and the other has a biplane and sky-writing. I didn't want to just rush through these two or three months of their lives, ashamed or embarrassed because they were wearing helmets. I wanted to embrace and enjoy this time, as I have every other stage, and have some fun with it. So we did.
Don't get me wrong: they're a pain in the ass too. The outside is a hard shell, so it's really uncomfortable trying to snuggle their heads against your chest or try to kiss their heads. And I've gotten banged in the face quite a few times when they jolt their heads back too fast or face-dive into my face. The helmets also smell like sweaty shoes, so when we take them off for the hour before bed (when we give them their baths and dinner and bottle and all of that), their heads smell too. Early on, I asked how we could get rid of that smell, aside from the alcohol cleaning we were doing every day anyway. Apparently, nothing, so there's always an unpleasant stench before bathtime. Poor, little stinkers.
And, of course, I'll admit, they're way cuter without the helmets. In the last couple of months, they've grown all of these beautiful, light brown curls, which you can sort of see over the top of their helmets, but not really. I mean, of course, they're still cute, no matter what, because they're mine. But, I am looking forward to having them back to their full, helmet-free glory. Also, I'm not ashamed to admit that I miss the days that people would just be like, "Oh twins, so cute!" without the, "What's the deal with the headgear?" questions. Still, I much prefer that to the people who just turn away, all uncomfortable, or silently gesture to each other like, "What's that about?"
It seems like most parents with babies though know what the helmets are all about -- it's becoming more and more common, especially since the Back to Sleep campaign to prevent SIDS -- and it seems like most people know at least one baby who needed one. In the scheme of things, it's really no big deal. My babies have had them on for 11 weeks, and are "graduating" in just a few days with beautiful, normal-shaped heads. It was absolutely worth it, at the very least for the peace of mind. I wouldn't want to look back ten years from now, and wish that I had done it when I had the chance.
My advice: if you think your baby might have a pronounced flat spot, talk to your pediatrician about it before he or she is 6 months old and, if recommended, get your child evaluated. It really was worth it, and not nearly as difficult as I thought it might be. It also flew by, as it seems every month with these babies does! And I feel better knowing that, in the end, I did the very best for them.
Does your baby need a helmet or have a helmet? What has your experience with it been?