Why Babies Wear Helmets
by Nicole Campbell, PT, DPT
Kids Place West Pediatric Physical Therapist
Ever noticed a baby wearing a helmet and wondered why? The short answer is to help shape their head.
Babies are born with ‘soft spots’ or bones in their skull that have not fused together. This is so a baby can fit through the birth canal. Sometimes you can even see pulsing in a baby’s soft spot, which is blood circulating nutrients and oxygen to the brain. Eventually all of the skull bones will harden to provide protection for the brain. Until the skull hardens, it is relatively pliable–so if a baby spends too much time in one position, a flat spot may form on the baby’s head due to the pressure of gravity and the surface the baby is lying on.
Many newborns sleep a decent amount, so it is not uncommon for a baby’s head to remain in one position. Babies are safest sleeping on their back in a crib without toys/blankets/pillows. While sleeping on their back, a baby may prefer rotating their head one direction. It is more important for a baby to sleep safely on their back, even if this increases their risk for developing a flat spot.
Why does it matter if a baby’s head is a little flat?
A round skull is important to protect the brain. If one part of the skull is flat, there may be a weak spot more likely to fracture. A flat spot may also affect a baby’s ear canal, increasing their risk for ear infections and headaches.
What can we do to help reduce the risk of a flat spot?
As a baby’s neck muscles become stronger, they are able to move their head around. Since a flat spot is more likely to occur when a baby’s head stays in one position, a baby is less likely to develop a flat spot if they are moving their head around.
For a baby’s neck muscles to get stronger, they need to practice looking up, down, left, and right. They also need to practice lifting their head against gravity in tummy time. We recommend a goal of 10 minutes of tummy time every hour a baby is awake. It is more difficult to practice looking in all directions if the baby is in a device, such as a reclined infant seat. So it is ideal to practice looking around when a baby is lying on a play mat, both on their back and on their belly.
Even when parents do everything right, some babies will still need a helmet and that is okay. If your baby needs help getting stronger or meeting their milestones, please do not hesitate to contact us with any questions or concerns.