I’m excited to introduce Smarty Mom Leigh Mays. I met Leigh at my neighborhood new mom’s group and our children are in the same class at daycare. Leigh is a superstar in my book! I marvel at her ability work full time, be a super mom, all while channeling her inner Martha Stewart. Where I bring the store bought brownies to the school luncheon and play my “working mom” card, Leigh rolls in with a plate of some amazing homemade dessert. Before the Thanksgiving holiday I witnessed Leigh delivering homemade strawberry jam for all the teachers in the infant suite. Really?!?!? Who works, takes care of their son, husband and still has time to jar homemade preserves, well Leigh does and I continue to be in awe.
Leigh’s son was diagnosed with plagiocephaly during his first few months, which is really just a fancy term for flat head. But, I wanted her to share her experience with the CSP readers so that we all could learn more about why some babies wind up with flat heads and some easy ways for us to avoid it. She can probably even give you a few tips for turning a helmet into a fashionable item. Tyson rocked an Alabama Football Helmet thanks to her handy work!
Name: Leigh Mays
Husband: Kevin Mays
Kid – Tyson (9 months)
Married (how long): 4.5 years
Hometown: Sarasota, FL
Lived in Charlotte: 4.5 years
What are the clinical terms for flat head and helmet? I’m sure saying flat head is not the technical term.
Plagiocephaly – a persistent flat spot on the back or side of head. Head flattening and asymmetry can have a number of causes: torticollis (aka wryneck or tightened neck muscles), crowding of the baby in the uterus, extended time in car seats and other infant carriers as well as back sleeping.
Did you notice the issue with Tyson’s head or did your pediatrician?
At Tyson’s two month check up, our pediatrician noticed the flat spot on his head and referred us to Susan Slaughter at Carolina Kinder Therapy for a second opinion. At that point, we hadn’t noticed the flat spot on our own. I had noticed that one of his ears seemed to be farther forward than the other, which was likely attributed to his head shape. Our therapist stretched his neck muscles, took measurements of his head, and diagnosed him with a moderate case of torticollis and plagiocephaly. The two diagnoses oftentimes go hand and hand. She explained that since we caught it so early and babies grow so rapidly between two and four months that there was a 50/50 chance that he’d need orthotics (aka cranial band) at around four months of age. Given the pace of growth, four months is the earliest that she would even consider a band. Tyson saw a therapist once a week for a month, and then it tapered to about once every other week until he was 4 months old.
What did the therapist recommend you do to work with Tyson?
We were given exercises to strengthen his neck with every diaper change and were encouraged to limit his waking time on his back and in all contraptions (swing, bouncy seat, car seat). In addition, and most importantly, we increased his tummy time and began to incorporate time on his side. We went to great lengths to encourage him to look left (the side of his neck that was tight) – so much so that we changed the direction we placed him in the crib at night and for diaper changes and left the light in the hallway on or fan on to draw his attention (and keep him off that flat spot). Try changing a diaper with the baby’s head on the opposite side – it’s like signing your name left handed (unless of course you are left handed)! We saw great improvements in his neck strength and flexibility over the course of those two months (pre-helmet).
When did you learn that Tyson needed a helmet?
I prepared myself from the beginning that a cranial band was likely at four months, but was determined to do everything I could in the meantime to try and prevent it. By four months, we had seen great strides in Tyson’s neck strength and flexibility. He was able to track items both to his right and left, but hadn’t seen much improvement in head shape. In our minds, we had done everything in our power, so the sooner he had the band on, the sooner he’d have it off. We were eager to get the next step in the process started, although nervous to see how it would affect him.
What was his course of treatment?
Tyson’s head was casted (similar to how an arm or leg would be) with plaster at 4.5 months. The cast of his head was then shipped off to a lab where his custom cranial band was made based on how his head SHOULD be shaped. We had some options of designs and colors for his helmet, but ultimately chose white, as I had already been researching and designing his band. For me, that was the exciting part. I knew I didn’t want white – it was far too medical and looked like something was wrong with my sweet baby boy. In all my research, I happened upon a fabulous website that showed custom designs for the cranial bands and showed dozens and dozens of happy babies sporting their helmets. The website, Bling Your Band, was a great way for me to share with family and friends what Tyson would be wearing.
Were you worried about the helmet’s effect on Tyson?
Two weeks after his plaster mold was taken, (about 1 week before he was five months old), Tyson was fitted for his band. I was nervous that my happy, easygoing baby boy’s personality and demeanor would be altered after wearing a helmet for 23 hours a day. It NEVER fazed him – on or off. And actually, it was a great way to protect his noggin from falls as he began to roll over and sit up. There are spills now where I think to myself, man, that helmet would have come in handy!
What did you do to decorate the white band?
After much deliberation, my husband and I agreed upon an Alabama Football helmet. After all, it was August and College football was right around the corner. My husband Kevin is a huge Alabama football fan, so he was thrilled albeit insistent that it look like the real thing.
Did people ask you about his helmet?
23 hours a day, seven days a week for 11 weeks, Tyson sported the helmet…. Yes, people talked – some questioned, some gawked, and some just quickly looked the other way. The helmet caught your intention and definitely became a conversation starter once it was painted. I think the design made it no longer look so medical and made us much more approachable to share the condition and course of treatment.
How can new moms avoid flattening their baby’s heads?
Don’t be afraid to encourage tummy time and side time when the baby is awake from the very beginning. I think there is so much emphasis on putting your baby on his/her back to sleep that the stress of tummy time is lost, especially in the first few months.
As Susan best put it, use the swing, bouncy seat, car seat, etc as condiments and not the main course.
Ask your pediatrician early if you notice a flat spot, the baby favoring one direction or having a tilt in his or her head.
Do families need support during this time?
I think they do. I reached out to two different families who had children that wore cranial bands. They were so supportive through the process. Personally knowing those beautiful children with giant personalities and who are flourishing in all aspects of life helped me keep perspective that everything was going to be okay. Since then, I’ve met at least two more families going through a similar process with their babies and I have made a valiant effort to reach out to them and tell Tyson’s story and answer their questions/concerns. As I was told on numerous occasions early on, the cranial band affects the parents so much more than it will affect the child. Hard to believe – yes, but 100% true.
How is Tyson’s head now that he is 9 months?
Much rounder, but with a few more bruises now that he’s getting around! We saw a difference in shape within the two weeks of wearing the helmet. At the beginning, I thought surely it was just wishful thinking on our part, but even his first set of measurements showed signs of improvement. He actually has a profile in either direction now. The 11 weeks flew by and were well worth it. And that Alabama football helmet is now worn by a stuffed monkey in his room.
Carolina Kinder Therapy – http://www.carolinakindertherapy.com