Cranial Technologies

Baby Helmet Therapy — How does it Work?

Infant helmet therapy, or cranial remolding orthosis, is a type of remolding therapy that treats plagiocephaly (flat head syndrome) in infants.

Helmet therapy corrects the baby's head shape over time by redirecting the natural head growth.

Why do some babies wear helmets?

At a young age, a child's head is very soft and prone to remolding from external pressure. Flat spots can form on babies' heads from activities like sleeping on their back or using a car seat.

Torticollis also increases the risk of flat spots by causing the baby to favor one side while lying down.

But in some cases, or for moderate to severe flat spots, the condition doesn't go away on its own. An external force caused the condition, so in some cases an external force is also necessary to correct the head shape.

baby wearing a helmet while playing in a pumpkin patch

During treatment, the helmet applies gentle holding pressures to specific parts of the head. As the head grows with age, the helmet helps to redirect growth toward the affected areas.

Active vs. passive treatment

But not every cranial molding helmet works the same way.

holding pressures from active infant helmet therapy technique

  • Active therapy devices like The DOC Band apply a custom corrective pressure that actively redirects head growth. We customize the helmet for the baby's specific head shape, which also promotes shortened treatment time.

  • Passive therapy devices only allow for the baby's head to grow into the mold overtime.

Decision tree to help determine when a baby is recommended for helmet therapy

How do I know if my baby needs helmet therapy?

If the flat spots don't go away after frequent repositioning and tummy time, your doctor may prescribe a helmet. However, no two cases of plagiocephaly are alike, and age plays an important factor in the course of treatment.

  • Deformational vs. Synostic: It's important that the cause of your baby's flat spots are first determined by a professional. Doctors do not use helmet therapy to treat craniosynostosis, a condition where the skull sutures close prematurely. In this case, the baby requires surgery, so it's critical to understand the underlying cause.
  • At 0-3 months of age repositioning and tummy time can sometimes correct the head shape in babies 0-3 months of age. We should then reassess their condition over time to see if there has been any improvement or not.
  • At 4-6+ months of age brain growth slows significantly. By this time, babies may not respond as well to gentle help and their provider may prescribe a helmet.
  • Severity of the head shape also plays an important role in determining the best course of treatment. For moderate to severe cases and in older children, research shows that flat spots are not likely to self correct. Experts will likely recommend treatment if they consider the head shape to be moderate to severe and see no improvement.
Happy baby lying on orange blanket in a doc band

Note: Helmet therapy is not used to treat craniosynostosis, a condition where the skull sutures close prematurely. In this case, doctors will recommend surgery to fix both the condition and the resulting head shape.

Frequently asked questions

How long is the band worn per day?

During treatment, the baby wears the band for 23 hours per day, with 1 hour breaks for bathing and/or band cleaning. Since treatment is time-dependent, the band must be worn nearly at all times to ensure optimal results.

Is the band uncomfortable for the baby?

The holding pressure applied is very gentle and no different than if they were lying on their backs.

  • Most parents report that their babies typically adjust to the band within 24 hours. This includes during activities like sleeping or playing.

  • The DOC Band uses hypoallergenic materials that suit even the most sensitive skin.

How long does treatment take?

The length of treatment depends on the severity of their condition and the age of the baby.

Most treatment times are between 6 to 16 weeks. Starting treatment earlier (between 4 and 6 months) reduces overall treatment time and promotes optimal results.

In some cases, a baby would benefit from a second band. In practice, we find that approximately 15% of babies continue treatment with a second band.

What is the optimal age to begin treatment?

A baby's head doubles in size within the first 6 months of age. But it only grows an additional 50% to age 2, where the head shape is mostly set for life.

Experts recommend starting treatment between the ages of 4-6 months during a period of rapid head growth. Although, helmet therapy can be effective for infants up to 18 months of age.

Where can I find treatment?

Cranial Technologies offers 90+ plagiocephaly clinics nationwide so you can find treatment close to home. If you have concerns about your baby's head shape, you can schedule a free evaluation at a location near you.