Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Fixing a Baby's Flat Head

We are running a story on when to go see an orthotist if your baby has a flat spot on his or her head. The story came about after this post from a few months ago that says babies with flat spots may be at risk for cognitive delays.

While researching this story, I talked to cranio-facial specialist Dr. Eric Ellwood. He is the doctor most parents are referred to locally when their kids have a flat spot. He says he sees about 10 a week and for most of them, surgery is not necessary. I asked him why pediatricians don't send the kids to an orthotist at the same time they are sent to him. He thinks it has a lot to do with insurance. I guess you have to have a prescription to get a helmet for your insurance to cover it. He said he doesn't have a problem with parents going to see an orthotist at four months.

If your baby has a flat spot on his or her head, there is a small window of opportunity to get it fixed. And many people are waiting too long to send the infant to an orthotics expert.

This picture is of 9 month old Layla Hull. she is getting her head circumference checked to see if her helmet is changing the shape of her head. Jade Hull said, "Now that I've seen the progression and it has gotten better already, I am hopeful and optimistic."

You've probably seen a lot more babies wearing helmets. Layla is one of thousands of babies with positional plagiocephaly. One side of her head is flat.

Jade Hull said, "I think it started actually before she was born." She is a twin and her head may have been cramped in utero. Plus, she tends to turn her head to the same side when she sleeps.

The helmet is perfectly shaped. When the baby has a growth spurt, her head will start forming to fit into the helmet. Orthotist John Brinkmann said, "Their head is so soft and moldable right after they're born that if they spend a lot of time on that one flat spot, it just gets worse."

The big problem--Brinkman says--is that babies are coming to his office when it's almost too late. John says to see an orthotist and get a scan at 4 months and again at 5 months--the scans are typically free. Brinkmann said, "A lot of the deformities do correct on their own just as a child spends more time tummy time, crawling sitting, the deformity isn't getting increased because they are not on that one spot."

But if your child's head deformity isn't correcting itself, you will have the option of buying the $2400 dollar helmet. Hull said, "A lot of people said it is so worth it. You can't even tell that anything was wrong after wearing it for the directed amount of time they were supposed to."

A flat head is typicaly a cosmetic issue, but preliminary research out of at WASHU in St. Louis shows the flat spot may cause cognitive delays.

Layla was referred at 7 months. Brinkmann said,"I think we'll see some significant reduction, but fingers crossed. you don't ever know." Brinkman says if your child is under one year old, you will probably get some correction, it just won't completely eliminate the flat spot.

Her mom is already seeing an improvement. "I'm excited. I can't wait to put bows in her hair again."

One big component is insurance. If you are on Medicade or if your insurance covers the cost of the helmet, you will need a prescription. It is also a good idea to see a cranio-facial specialist to make sure your child doesn't need surgery for a tight neck muscle or fusion of the bones.


I have talked to so many moms who didn't know to take their babies in early and are worried their child's head will be disfigured forever.

NewsAnchorMom Jen

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