happier helmets
Caroline Holland paints between 20 and 25 cranial helmets every month.

Making “Happier Helmets” for babies with plagiocephaly

Houston-area entrepreneur Caroline Holland runs a bustling home business

Making “Happier Helmets” for babies with plagiocephaly

4 Minute Read

What began as a loving pick-me-up for her own daughter has become a brisk home business that lifts the spirits of parents and young children.

Caroline Holland’s youngest child, Lily, spent her last three months in utero in a breech position. At birth, Lily’s head was misshapen.

“Her head was basically like a triangle,” Holland recalled. “The back was flat and the sides bulged out.”

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Plagiocephaly is the medical term for flat head syndrome, a condition that occurs in about 50 percent of children, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians. Often, the condition corrects itself. When it doesn’t, doctors prescribe a cranial helmet, which helps fix a baby’s skull shape by gently directing growth when the skull is most malleable. If a baby has a lopsided head with a gap on the back right, for example, the helmet will be tighter on the left with room for the head to grow to fill the space on the right.

Typically, a baby wears the helmet 23 hours a day until the head shape has improved.

Caroline Holland’s daughter, Lily, wore a cranial helmet for four months.

At first, the Hollands tried to correct the shape of Lily’s head with different repositioning techniques, including placing her head at certain angles while she was napping or sleeping at night. When that didn’t work, doctors put Lily in a cranial helmet for four months.

“Before my daughter got hers, I was thinking that it has to be uncomfortable,” Holland said, “but my daughter loved the helmet.”

Every two weeks, the Hollands went back to the doctor to see if the helmet needed tweaking; sometimes, specialists would shave off certain areas from the inside to relieve pressure.

“I decided to paint my daughter’s helmet, and when we went to her appointments, all these moms approached and asked: ‘Do you think you can paint my child’s helmet?’” Holland recalled. “I said I would try.”

That was more than two years and nearly 350 helmets ago.

Recently, Holland painted an Astros theme on a helmet and had it signed by Astros players.

Today, Happier Helmets is a brisk business that Holland runs out of her home in Spring. Although she says she only “dabbled” in art during college, Holland now paints between 20 and 25 helmets every month. Each helmet takes between 4 and 6 hours to complete.

“People either come to me with a design they found on Pinterest, or maybe they bring me a onesie and ask if I can recreate the pattern,” Holland said. “Every now and then, someone will say, ‘I just want something girly.’”

Each helmet gets three coats of paint and then five coats of Mod Podge, a water-based glue that creates a thick seal. Parents drop off the helmet in the morning and get it back the very same day.

Since the arrival of COVID-19, the drop-off and pick-up process is completely contactless.

“They drop it on my doorstep and send me a text,” Holland explained. “I clean the helmet before bringing it in. I text them when it is done and put it back on the porch.”

Holland never charges for her services, but most of her customers choose to donate to Happier Helmets. She uses the money to buy materials and sometimes to fund other projects for people in need. For example, she recently completed a large painting for the Make-A-Wish Foundation and was able to pay for all the supplies with Happier Helmets donations.

Holland has a Happier Helmets Facebook page for potential customers to reach out to her. She also has a new website, oakridgedesignco.com, which features other art projects, works for sale and a Happier Helmets section that links to donation information and a calendar, so parents can schedule a time to get their baby’s helmet painted.

“Some weeks, I have so many messages,” Holland said. “That’s why I had my husband, who’s in IT, set up the calendar.”

Holland is now at a stage with her business where she would love to partner with other artists who have the time and desire to paint. Anyone interested should reach out to her on social media.

“This is a pipe dream,” she said. “So many helmets are being issued every day. Especially now, during the pandemic, people might be open to painting helmets.”

In additional to lifting the spirits of hundreds of families, Happier Helmets has done a lot for Holland, personally.

“I didn’t realize how much I needed this until I started doing it,” said Holland, whose children are now 5 and 2. “Before, I was just a stay-at-home mom and I didn’t have a lot of activities I did for myself. Then I started this and this whole piece of me came alive and gave me a purpose I didn’t know I was missing. Any quiet moment I get, I’m painting.”

Holland does not charge for painting cranial helmets. When she receives donations, she buys materials and supplies or uses the money to support other projects for children in need.

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