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Baby Bear Cranial Clinic: Your head shape experts

Appleton clinic focuses on the education, prevention and treatment of cranial asymmetries

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January 24, 2024

APPLETON — From the moment her tiny patients come through the door, Cassie Mathis said she does whatever she can to create a positive experience.

As the owner of Baby Bear Cranial Clinic (2535 Northern Road, Suite B in Appleton) — an orthotic clinic focused on cranial remolding helmets to treat cranial asymmetries, such as Plagiocephaly, Brachycephaly, Scaphocephaly and post-surgical Craniosynostosis — Mathis said she strives to be the region’s premier head shape experts.

Mathis opened the clinic in 2021 and said it has had steady growth since.

“With the love and support of my friends and family, Baby Bear Cranial Clinic was created, which has allowed me to take my passion for helmets and helping others to the next level,” she said.

Mathis said she prides herself on the reputation she’s built in the community.

In 2023, the clinic provided treatment for 110 families, compared to 45 in 2021.

A solid foundation
After earning a bachelor’s degree in kinesiology and business administration from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, she went on to obtain orthotic and prosthetic certificates from Northwestern University and California State University-Dominguez Hills, respectively.

Before Baby Bear, Mathis said she did work with artificial limbs, back braces and cranial remolding helmets.

“I have been working with little ones who have been diagnosed with plagiocephaly and/or
brachycephaly since 2011 during a portion of my residency at a clinic located in (the) Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin in Milwaukee,” she said.

Inspiration behind the clinic
Mathis said the journey that led to the opening of Baby Bear was a combination of situation, the COVID-19 pandemic and where she was in life at the time.

As a mother of three young boys herself, she said she needed a change.

As she contemplated what to do next, Mathis said she was reminded that one of her favorite aspects of orthotics was cranial remolding helmets.

Baby Bear Owner Cassie Mathis said the clinic utilizes the latest technology for its 3D scans and helmet fabrication, which render extremely effective results. Photo Courtesy of Baby Bear Cranial Clinic

“I always felt I could do the helmet process better,” she said. “It’s stressful for parents, especially new parents, when they find out from their doctor, physical therapist or maybe a friend their baby has a flat spot.”

Mathis said these situations can sometimes be accompanied by guilt and shame — leaving parents asking if they did something wrong.

Knowing from first-hand experience — with her oldest son needing a helmet — Mathis said she wondered what she could do to make the overall experience better.

Though the plan to take the leap and open Baby Bear Cranial Clinic made sense, Mathis said that doesn’t mean it was all easy.

“I had to go about a year without taking any pay — but it’s been growing since we started,” she said. “What we hear back from families is how easy we make the process. We make them feel comfortable and safe to ask questions.”

Using a team approach and working collaboratively with the families, physicians, physical therapists, chiropractors and all others involved, Mathis said she’s worked hard to build her reputation as a cranial orthotic specialist.

“No one wants their baby to wear a helmet — we understand that,” she said. “We’re not trying to make your baby wear a helmet. However, if they qualify for cranial remolding treatment, we want you to understand why, and we want to be there to help support you along that journey.”

Mathis said Baby Bear Cranial Clinic provides patient-families with comprehensive care by focusing efforts on all aspects of cranial asymmetry, including prevention, education, awareness and treatment of cranial deformities.

“(We have) services where we can teach parents how to keep their babies off the back of their heads,” she said.

This, Mathis said, is led by Baby Bear’s Callie Huft, a licensed occupational therapist.

“We have the knowledge and resources to make sure you feel confident your baby is well taken care of,” she said.

An increased need
Mathis said people often ask why helmets are needed more these days — much of it, she said, has to do with a shift in how things are done.

In the mid-’90s, Back to Sleep protocols — which recommend babies sleep and lay on their back — were put into place.

Before that, it was advised babies sleep on their bellies or sides.

Though Mathis said she recognizes the importance of the Back to Sleep protocols — significantly reducing the occurrence of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome) — she said it is also important to be mindful of the amount of time babies spend on a flat surface, which can cause constant stress of the skull.

“We all know newborn skulls are softer,” she said. “There has been an influx of (new) baby (gear, such as cribs, bouncers and car seats) — which are convenient ways for a baby to be carried or held, but they often keep a baby on the back of their head and limit the amount of freedom a baby has to move and gain strength.”

The most common conditions these experiences can cause, Mathis said, are Plagiocephaly or Brachycephaly.

What does this mean?
Mathis said a brachycephalic head shape is characterized by a flatness on the back of the head, a wide and short head shape, increased vault height or slant from forehead to crown and bulging above the ears.

Though Brachycephaly has historically been considered a cosmetic issue, Mathis said recent research has linked severe Brachycephaly with a misaligned jaw, sleep apnea and ear infections.

Mathis said Plagiocephaly is characterized by a flatness on one side of the head and corresponding bossing, or forehead protrusion on that same side.

Baby Bear Cranial Clinic opened at 2535 Northern Road, Suite B in Appleton in 2021. Photo Courtesy of Baby Bear Cranial Clinic

The ear on the side of the flattening, she said, is shifted forward, and the height of the crown is higher on the side of the flatness.

There is often a flattening of the forehead, opposite of the posterior flattening.

Plagiocephaly, Mathis said, is often linked to an underlying neck tightness called torticollis, which limits the neck’s range of motion and can cause a weakened muscle on the side opposite of the tightness.

It’s also important to remember, Mathis said, that Baby Bear Cranial Clinic treats the symptoms and not the underlying cause of why treatment is needed and suggests working with other professionals in conjunction with helmet treatment.

“For example, with plagiocephaly, you want to make sure you’re seeing a physical therapist or chiropractor, somebody who’s addressing the symmetry of the whole body, so it doesn’t cause other issues,” she said.

Timing, Mathis said, is key — because effectively treating head shape can only happen until about 18 months of age.
She said helmets work off a guide-growth principle.

After 18 months, she said, is when head growth starts to slow down to the point where you’re not going to get any improvements in shape.

Mathis said it’s also important to keep in mind the goal isn’t to create a perfectly shaped head, but rather correct the shape to be within an optimal range to reduce the risk for functional, aesthetic and medical concerns.

“Think about hats, helmets, glasses — those are all made with a standard-size head,” she said.

A tool you didn’t know you needed
Mathis said Baby Bear Cranial Clinic is transparent in its recommendations, timelines and expectations, as well as financial responsibilities.

One of the biggest misconceptions about helmets, Mathis said, is that they’re not covered by insurance.

However, she said most of the time they do, as long as you’re meeting a medical necessity.

“(Baby Bear) utilizes the latest technology for our 3D scans and helmet fabrication, which render extremely effective results,” she said. “We’ll give you honest and objective data, and an honest recommendation.”

With the early months of a newborn’s life spent curled up, Mathis said issues can go unnoticed.

She said she suggests parents look at pictures and make note of where their baby is looking — if it’s always to the side, for example, she said it might be a good idea to get things checked out.

Baby Bear, Mathis said, offers free consultations.

“Some families come in and their baby is ok, within normal ranges for head shape, but they’re glad they came in,” she said. “It’s peace of mind.”

Cassie Mathis said Baby Bear Cranial Clinic is transparent in its recommendations, timelines and expectations. Photo Courtesy of Baby Bear Cranial Clinic

Baby Bear services, Mathis said, focus on two different age ranges — babies less than three months and those four to 12 months.

For babies under three months, Mathis said the focus is more on prevention — with the goal of maybe not needing a helmet at all.

Four months, Mathis said, is the age when Baby Bear would consider putting a helmet on babies — with a timeframe of about eight to 12 weeks, depending on severity.

Mathis said she makes sure her clients fully understand the whole journey — from start to finish. “We do a really thorough job of explaining what the objective measurements mean, how things got to that point and how we can get to our goal of a well-rounded head,” she said.

Community initiatives
When she first started Baby Bear, Mathis said it didn’t take long for her to look inward in search of the impact she wanted the clinic to have beyond its four walls.

“I applied for a grant within the first six months of starting the business,” she said. “One of the questions on it was, ‘how do you plan to give back to the community?’ It was something I didn’t think about at first.”

At first, Mathis said her thoughts were rooted in how the business was going to serve her — supporting her family and extending her mission with helmets.

“It was something that really impacted me,” she said, “It got me thinking, ‘how can I give back?’ Even though I wasn’t making money in the beginning, I knew I could still give back.”

That inward reflection, Mathis said, inspired the launch of the clinic’s diaper drives — benefiting the Fox Cities Diaper Bank.

So far this month, the clinic has donated 3,188 diapers to the bank.

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