June 28th 2015 - To understand why beanie hats and headbands can be dangerous for newborns, you first must understand the structure and development of the skull. If you don’t really care about the science of embryology you can skip to page two.
As the embryo develops the flat bones of the skull, like the frontal, parietals, the squamous part of the temporal, the occipital, the nasal and lacrimal bones are not solid but are all membranous.
The plates of the membranous bones making up the calvarium of the skull are each derived from the primary ossification center, from which bone formation spreads outward. However, the individual plates do not fuse with each other during prenatal development. As a consequence, new born babies have unclosed sutures and fontanelles. A premature baby will have an even less developed skull and be even more susceptible to outside influence on the brain.
These temporary discontinuities between the bones of the calvarium aid passage of the head through the birth canal during childbirth and permit an increase in the size of the skull to match brain growth after birth.
At birth, the human skull consists of 44 separate bony elements. As growth occurs, many of these bony elements gradually fuse together into solid bone (for example, the frontal bone). The bones of the roof of the skull are initially separated by regions of dense connective tissue called "fontanels". There are six fontanels: one anterior (or frontal), one posterior (or occipital), two sphenoid (or anterolateral), and two mastoid (or posterolateral). The posterior (smaller) fontanelle closes during the first year, and the anterior (larger) fontanelle closes during the second year after birth.
At birth these regions are fibrous and movable, necessary for birth and later growth. This growth can put a large amount of tension on the "obstetrical hinge", which is where the squamous and lateral parts of the occipital bone meet. A possible complication of this tension is rupture of the great cerebral vein of Galen. As growth and ossification progress, the connective tissue of the fontanelles is invaded and replaced by bone creating sutures. The five sutures are the two squamous, one coronal, one lambdoid, and one sagittal sutures. The posterior fontanel usually closes by eight weeks, but the anterior fontanel can remain open up to eighteen months. The anterior fontanel is located at the junction of the frontal and parietal bones; it is a "soft spot" on a baby's forehead. Careful observation will show that you can count a baby's heart rate by observing his or her pulse pulsing softly through the anterior fontanel.
The first year is the time of the most rapid growth and change as the skull bones migrate to the proper places to form the adult skull and begin to close the sutures. Kind of like laying tongue and groove flooring, the pieces must fit together in the proper way.
The adult skull could be said to consist of twenty two bones: eight bones of the neurocranium (occipital bone, 2 temporal bones, 2 parietal bones, sphenoid bone, ethmoid bone, frontal bone), and fourteen bones of the viscerocranium (vomer, 2 conchae, 2 nasal bones, 2 maxilla, mandible, 2 palatine bones, 2 zygomatic bones, 2 lacrimal bones)
Some of the sutures remain open until adulthood. The bones never completely fuse together and have flexibility throughout a person’s life. Think about putting together your standard jigsaw puzzle. Some pieces fit snugly, others are a bit loose. If you try to pick it up the finished puzzle, the pieces bend at their joints and loose ones may become displaced and slightly slide beneath another piece. This is the same thing that can happen to a skull when subjected to pressure or an impact of some kind.
Dr. William Sutherland, the father of cranial osteopathy, for some 20 years beginning in the early 1900s, explored the concept that the bones of the skull were structured to allow for movement. It was in 1970, during a neck surgery in which he was assisting, that osteopathic physician John E. Upledger first observed the rhythmic movement of what would soon be identified as the CranioSacral system.
Artificial cranial deformation is a historical practice of some cultures. Cords and wooden boards would be used to apply pressure to an infant's skull and alter its shape, sometimes quite significantly. This procedure would begin just after birth and would be carried on for several years. Hippocrates was the first to record the practice in 400 BC of the Macrocephali or Long-heads, who were named for their practice of cranial modification. There is no record of the later problems individuals may have suffered from these practices.
Placing a beanie hat or headband on a baby may be a modern style choice that has the same consequences. However, today we can see the later issues that can develop from pressure applied to the developing brain.
To move the bones in an adult skull requires 5 grams of pressure, which is the weight of a nickel. To move the bones in an infant’s skull requires less than one gram of pressure. Premature infants require a small fraction of a gram.
The weight of an infant’s head on a soft surface is enough to change the shape of the skull and the position of the bones. This is why children suffering from torticollis or tightness around the dural tube which prevents movement of their head from side to side will cause the head to become flat.
Today doctors prefer to avoid forceps and vacuum deliveries because the pressure they create can cause many problems from misshapen head to brain damage and an assortment of symptoms of developmental issues and developmental delay in between.
Many people will argue the headbands and beanies are not tight. No, to an adult they seem soft and stretchy but to a delicate infant they apply considerable pressure. Everything is relative. Adults may pick up a 10 lb weight and it is nothing, but would you expect the baby to be able to pick up 10 lbs? No. The baby will only be able to lift a few ounces. But the adult does not expect the child to lift the weight so why do they expect the child to bear the excessive pressure that to an adult is no pressure at all? It is the same difference.
To stay on, beanies and headbands must exert more than one gram of pressure, therefore it is effecting brain development. If there is a red mark on the skin, too much pressure has been exerted. How long does it take for that red mark to go away? That is an indication of how tight that felt to the baby. If there is an indentation on the head, it was much too tight and the baby probably developed a headache from the experience but was unable to complain in adult language and people just say they are being fussy.
Not all children will show overt signs of skull compression while in others the results can be severe. Much will depend on how often pressure is applied and for what period of time it is applied. It will also depend on if there are other imbalances in the body such as tightness in the dural tube, misalignment of the spine, imbalance of the pelvis or any other restriction which has caused the body to be out of balance. The compression will affect the weakest areas of the skull, the areas where the bones may not be in quite the proper position or where the suture is not the strongest or where the pressure is uneven because of other imbalances. The bones may either be moved out of position or compressed to the point where they overlap and apply even more pressure on the brain. This can cause huge problems for the developing child.
The misalignments or restrictions that can result from skull compression vary widely. It may impede the baby from turning its head completely to both sides. This may prevent the child from being able to roll over to both sides, which may then affect their ability to prop, then to crawl, then to balance, then to walk. Each of these developmental sequences should happen naturally and smoothly integrate into the next sequence, but any interruption in one can then affect the following sequences.
The effects may be physical, emotional, cognitive, developmental or even materialize as sensory integration problems. It depends on what part of the brain has been affected by the pressure and how the brain has compensated. A baby or child may appear to have feeding problems, colic, excessive crying, speech problems, anger issues, frustration, dyslexia, ADHD, forgetfulness, inattention, autism, aversion to certain sounds or textures, etc. It is impossible to give an exact cause and effect because each person is an individual and has different experiences and weaknesses that create the whole. Therefore, each person will be impacted in a different way that is unique to them.
While a child may exhibit some symptoms immediately, they may be overlooked or attributed to being tired or over stimulated. If a parent notices and seeks help, a pediatrician may say the child will grow out of the problem. But children do not grow out of fascial problems, they just become more evident or morph into more serious diagnoses. So many children are not diagnosed with an issue until they are in school and the teacher recognizes symptoms.
Only a pediatric Fascial Integrative Therapist or CranioSacral Therapist will be able to feel where the tight areas are, move the bones to their appropriate positions and normalize the pressure to allow the brain to heal. However, if the situation has developed over a long period of time, healing may take a long time and there may be some residual problems.
It is best not to put a person at risk by exposing their skull to unnecessary pressure just because people think a headband looks cute or they want to make a fashion statement by putting a beanie or a heavy hat on an infant or child too young to say “that hurts.”
Windsong Therapy and Wellness
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Bedford, TX 76022
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_skull; http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/002320.htm; http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1244823/; http://www.upledger.com/pdf/The-Dural-Connection.pdf; http://www.upledger.com/pdf/An%20Explanation%20of%20CranioSacral%20Therapy%20by%20DrU.pdf; http://www.upledger.com/pdf/Cranial%20Osteopathy%20and%20CranioSacral%20Therapy.pdf