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Plagiocephaly or ‘flat head syndrome’ can occur when babies lay on one part of their head for an extended period of time. It’s a scary word for new parents, but the good news is that reforming a baby’s soft skull can easily be treated with a corrective helmet.

The helmets, which are usually recommended by doctors for babies aged three to six months, are to be worn 23 hours a day, a significant amount of time for little ones. These helmets usually come in plain colours that tend to scream ‘medical’ more than ‘cute.’ But Paula Strawn, an American artist in Kennewick, Washington, is slowly changing that.

A few years ago, she was approached by a woman who taught her younger daughters and had a grandchild with a plagiocephaly helmet. Remembering that Strawn was an artist, the teacher asked if Strawn would be able to paint her grandchild’s helmet to make it look more appealing.

Strawn agreed, and 2,800 helmets later, she’s helped thousands of children and parents find the fun in what can be a difficult and upsetting situation.

Strawn said the business grew quickly, with the first order for a handful of helmets. “At first it was just a couple helmets a week for [one orthotic’s] office and soon other orthotic offices found out and I sent them flyers and then made a website and then a Facebook page… it just really snowballed fairly quickly.”

With a wide range of patterns that include aviator helmets, hockey helmets, Disney-inspired themes and more, Strawn explained that the helmets help the parents as much as the babies.

“I have had parents in my living room teary because their beautiful baby has to wear this ugly but needed thing. They don’t want others to look at their adored and cherished wonder of the world with pity… that is heart-breaking,” said Strawn. “I think of the design process as therapy.”

The price of a custom helmet ranges between $200 to $350 USD (around $160 to $460 CAD), and Strawn has a number of designs to choose from, including helmets featuring famous pieces of art, popular movies and beloved book covers (check out examples here). She also offers personalized helmets and will collaborate with parents to design one that’s fitting for their child.

Call her a miracle worker.