You probably remember Flat Stanley. Well, I'm talking about Flat Michael... and this lil' guy isn't made of paper. I'll explain in a second.
Let me be honest. Before becoming a parent, I felt like I was so clueless with many kid-related things. Things like having to repeat certain phrases over and over again like, "What's the magic word" and, "Do you have to go potty before we leave?" Yes, we parents actually use words like "potty" and maybe even add a "y" to a handful of words. Examples: milky, blanky and poopy. Ok, maybe it's just us... don't judge.
But another thing I just had never heard about... flat head syndrome, aka Plagiocephaly. You may be scratching your round head and thinking, "huh?" I know... that's what I thought, too.
Basically, Plagiocephaly is a condition when your child has a flat spot on the very back of their head and/or an uneven overall shape. This has only become more prevalent since the early '90s which is when doctors began recommending that parents put their kids to sleep on their backs to reduce the risk of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome). While this did help the fight against SIDS, many babies began developing flat heads because they were sleeping on their backs while their heads were developing... hence the flat spot on the back.
For our now-4-year-old, this didn't happen... even though he slept on his back, as well. However, I started noticing that our 10-month-old's head went from being round to having this flat look. My wife and I really began noticing it around 6 months. So while at his regular checkup, I asked his pediatrician to take a closer look, and sure enough, she agreed that his head was on the flatter side. She recommended that we check out this place called Cranial Technologies in Pasadena, CA known for putting on custom-fitting DocBands (helmets) to correct the problem. In order for us to have a no-cost consultation, we had to get a written note or "prescription" from the doctor.
So, of course, after we left the doc's office, I went straight to the Internet to gather information about this whole flat head situation. Note to self -- do not get information off the Internet, especially when it comes to something medically-related. I know this, but I did it anyway. Many online skeptics had warned that the helmets were ineffective and a waste of money. Although these commenters may have had a valid point, we wanted what's best for our kid. So we stuck with our appointment to at least see what this helmet-thing was all about.
At our appointment, they did several measurements as well as a full 360 degree scan of our son's head. Extremely thorough. My wife and I realized that this is way more common than we had thought. I mean, even going into this place, there were kids coming down the elevator wearing these DocBands. As soon as we had our son's head images on paper, it was clear to see he had a moderate to severe form of flat head syndrome. We agreed that it would be best to go ahead and get the DocBand helmet. Now this isn't your average helmet. First of all, depending on your insurance, it can set you back thousands of dollars, and your child has to wear it 23-hours-a-day in order for it to be effective. The hope is that the helmet, and the custom shape they've molded, will help the head to fill out while your child's head is growing. Just to be clear, it's super lightweight and isn't fitted tightly.
It took a few visits for adjustments, but just over a week later, his DocBand was ready. They warned us that at first, children have a few sleepless nights while they adjust to wearing this helmet on their head. Not going to lie, the first three nights were miserable... for the baby and for us. None of us slept. We felt bad that he wasn't comfortable, so my wife and I would take shifts every couple of hours to hold him until he fell asleep. Sometimes while putting him down, we'd awaken the Kraken (Sorry, Clash of the Titans reference!) and we were screwed for another hour, but a few times we scored with a sleeping baby.
I can recall one instance where the baby was crying at 2:00 a.m., and my wife happened to be up with him at the time. Figured it was my turn to take over, so I opened the door to his bedroom and I guess I startled him. He moved quickly and the helmet smacked my wife in the front tooth. Whoa! Seriously, I thought those teeth were gone for sure. My wife is super calm and happy, but a few choice words may or may not have been yelled out of her mouth at that moment. I'll confess, I may or may not have kind of chuckled at how ridiculous this scene looked: two zombie parents, 2:00 a.m., possibly fractured tooth and a baby rockin' a helmet. Not exactly in the "you're a parent now" handbook.
To make these DocBand helmets look a little cooler, some people (like us) opted to have a vinyl wrap put on to give it that custom look. Hey, why not pimp out this plastic creation while we have it? Since our family loves hockey, my wife designed a custom image that would make our son's DocBand look like an Anaheim Ducks hockey helmet. Then a company called Gatorwraps in Ontario, CA printed the image and applied it to the plain white DocBand. I'm telling you once that helmet was ready to go, our little one's eyes lit up. He's too young to talk, but we could tell by his expression, that he was pretty pumped to put on this bad boy. And wouldn't you know, our 4-year-old wanted one, as well. My reply? Um, ok... well, you can wear your bike helmet all you want. Go for it. And yes, I got an eye roll for that one.
Depending on the severity of your child's head shape, the DocBand needs to be worn on average for a duration of 3-9 months. And doctors recommend that you begin this process as early as you can because once your child turns 16 months, the head is pretty much going to stay the way it is. Yes, your child's head will continue to develop, but that soft spot in the back won't be as pliable to re-shape. The earlier, the better!
Fast forward two months. We're happy to report that our lil' guy's head is significantly rounder. One of our fears has always been, "what if it doesn't make a difference?" and "Did we put him through a bit of discomfort at the beginning for nothing?" Luckily, it's been all worth it. Since the flatness of our kid's head was more on the severe side, he could have to wear it for another five months from this point, but at this rate of improvement, he may be able to ditch it sooner.
I kid you not, now that our little guy wears a DocBand, I seem to notice a lot more kids sportin' one, too. So glad we acted when we did. His little head should be round again in no time.
Even if your child doesn't need one, at least now you'll know what these helmets are all about when you see them. We've had our fair share of stares, whether we're at the grocery store, church or cruising around the mall. Many think it's worn due to some kind of head injury. Thankfully, that's not the case. Knowledge makes the world go 'round, and these DocBand helmets... well, you know.