Tips for Sleeping in a Helmet
A few months ago, my son, Oliver, was diagnosed with sagittal craniosynostosis, meaning that the central suture of his skull had prematurely fused. The good news is that this is 100% fixable. The more complicated news is that you need to have surgery to fix it. Luckily, his case was mild enough that we had options, and we chose the less invasive surgery that then necessitates that he wear a helmet for the next year to protect and re-shape his skull.
The surgeons and care team at Kaiser Permanente did an incredible job in preparing us to tackle this, and in taking care of our baby. Oliver has been beyond incredible in his resilience. His big, big smiles continue to delight and impress us. Babies are so adaptable, and he's trucked on as though little has changed.
Apart from the emotions involved, the hardest thing for me to manage has been regulating Oliver's temperature. Babies release heat through their heads, so wearing a non-ventilated helmet 23 hours a day means that he runs hot. And even though it's winter, it's still very important that we not let him get too hot, both to prevent the general dangers of overheating, and because we don't want sweat to pool up in the helmet. Trapped moisture is not our friend. Checking to make sure he's the right temp can be a bit of a guessing game during the day, and a bit frightening come night when we can't monitor him.
Here are a few things that I've gleaned that can help get your little one back to their regular sleep patterns—and honestly, most of these tips can be used for any baby when the temperature rises.
1. Choose the Right Fabrics
It's best for children to wear fabrics that are lightweight and breathable. Opt for a nice bamboo or organic cotton muslin material. The great thing about bamboo is that it can help to regulate temperature. And, it's also moisture-wicking and anti-microbial, so it won't get full of sweat should your baby get too hot, and thus doesn't have to be washed as often.
2. Less is More
Since heat is trapped up under the helmet, keep the body in balance by not also covering your little one's feet. Say adieu to those adorable footed rompers, and free those toes! We've been dressing Oliver in a long-sleeved onesie and either our Kilauea or Kauai One sleep sacks. Our TOG Guide can help you determine how to dress him/her based on room temp.
3. Run a Fan
No one wants to run the A/C during the winter, but air-circulation can help your baby to feel more comfortable. If you don't have an overhead fan, something like this will work.
3. Be Patient
Sleep post-surgery and then post-helmet were both very different experiences. Oliver started waking up a lot more at night (and we thought we were done with the NB phase!). He wasn't hungry—he needed time to adjust and loads and loads of cuddles. We're still working on it, so I'll let you know how this all goes :)
Update: After about a week and a half, Oliver got used to the new normal and was back to sleeping through the night. It's absolutely incredible how adaptable babies are!
4. Call on your Support
Make sure that you're taking time to check-in on how you're doing, both as an individual and as a partnership. Reach out for support from friends and family. Perhaps join a helmet-wearing parent's group online or in person. Cry in the bathtub if you need to, or dance it out to whatever gets you moving. I'm always a DM away if you need to chat about your experiences.
Please feel free to add any more tips to the comments below. Sending my love to all other helmet-wearing babies and their families. We've got this!