I often recommend parents ask their pediatricians for a referral for a Physical or Occupational Therapy evaluation to get to the root of any concerns about their infant's head shape, muscle asymmetries, and motor milestones. Ack - therapy, evaluation, referral to a specialist?!!! That sounds so scary and medical and sends many new parents into panic mode!
To help diffuse some of the fears and worry, I'd like to introduce you to one of the clinicians on the front-lines of treating flat heads and asymmetries in infants. You can hear in her responses how much she cares about the babies she sees and how she supports and respects their families.
Jennifer Todd-Barnard, OTR, is owner of Baby Begin. Serving the Dallas and Houston areas of Texas, Baby Begin specializes in home-based treatment of Plagiocephaly (Flat Head Syndrome) and Torticollis.
Baby Begin's therapists achieve amazing results by helping parents learn to reposition their babies during daily routines, adding stretching exercises when needed and other not-so-scary interventions. I just love Baby Begin's focus on early, quick treatment to reduce the need for helmets (cranial orthotics to fix head shape) and their in-home treatment model.
What's the biggest advantage of working with babies in their homes (as opposed to a clinic)?
Working with babies in their own environments has been life changing. I have done work in clinics and in the home and would never go back to the clinic. Babies and their parents are more comfortable in their own environment. They perform most naturally there. I can see where the baby sleeps, where the family hangs out to watch TV, how siblings interact with the baby and then I can understand the whole family's day-to-day activities. This allows me to individualized each and every recommendation. It is one thing to TELL a parent to reposition their baby a certain way, but to be able to SHOW them is so much more powerful. We are able to keep 80% of our patients out of helmets and I believe that seeing a patient at home is one of the main reasons why.
What is your best advice to a new parent with concerns about baby's head shape whose pediatrician says, "wait and see" or "it'll round out on its own"?
Unfortunately, there is no clear research right now that shows the head will improve on its own. Most of it is anecdotal. There might be some "softening" of the asymmetries but we really don't know how much of that will be noticeable when the baby is older. With mild or even some moderate asymmetries, it may be that over time, it is much less visually apparent. But with a severe deformity, I think the best course of action is to seek out treatment to correct the asymmetries both for cosmetic and functional reasons. Most helmet providers do free consultations so they can go and get measurements, then discuss their concerns with their doctor. But always remember, this is your baby so you need to go with your gut instinct!
What surprises you most about the families you work with?
Although I shouldn't be surprised, I always am when I come back for a second visit and the parents have followed all of my instructions to a tee and the results are remarkable! They care so much about their little miracles and will do anything that is in the best interest of their baby. It warms my heart and makes me so proud to be alongside of them.
Any favorite Tummy Time tip for babies who are less than thrilled about TT?
My favorite way to do Tummy Time is over the parent's lap while they are sitting on the floor or a couch. This allows the parent to show the baby a toy or mirror and pat the baby's bottom for distraction. This is easy to incorporate into most daily activities like watching a sibling play, sitting at the table, watching TV, or visiting with family. Babies tend to really enjoy this position and don't think of it as "work."
Physical Therapy and Occupational Therapy can overlap so much in their work with infants and it can be confusing for parents. Can you explain how PT's and OT's work together with infants in your practice?
In our practice, actual hands-on experience with Torticollis and Plagiocephaly is more important than whether you are a Physical or Occupational Therapist. The two disciplines do overlap quite a bit with these young patients and I have seen both professions do very well with this population. So if you're looking for the "right" therapist, I would find out who has seen the most babies with Torticollis/Plagiocephaly and what their outcomes were. Both conditions are difficult to treat so you want someone who has seen a lot of babies, not just a few. That will give you more information about the therapist than what degree they hold.
I hope you can see that Jennifer and other therapists offer so much wisdom, support and compassion to families who notice head shape and muscle/motor imbalances in their babies. Baby Begin's success rates underscore the importance of early detection and treatment for Plagiocephaly and Torticollis. If you have concerns about your baby's development, don't panic! Know that compassionate and knowledgeable therapists are here to help you help your baby.
Learn More About Flat Head Syndrome / Plagiocephaly:
Plagiocephaly is more than cosmetic. Learn why your baby's head shape matters.
How to check your baby's head for flat spots.
Discover how Rock 'n Plays and other baby equipment contribute to Flat Head Syndrome.
If you've ever wished babies came with instruction manuals...
"Begin With A Blanket" walks you through 45 creative ways to play with your baby and sheds light on important concepts to promote healthy infant development and help prevent common problems including Flat Head Syndrome, Torticollis, motor delays, sensory processing difficulties and more.
What other parents are saying...
"This book is perfect for a new mom!"
"I plan on buying many more as gifts for new parents."
"Fantastic ideas and well written."