The ultimate happiness that a pregnant woman derives is when she finally gets to hold her baby. But a woman who has just delivered is a mixed bag of emotions too. For one, she is relieved because, after nine months of taking the utmost care of the fragile being growing inside her, she’s finally able to hold her healthy baby in her hands. But, despite achieving this, she’s also a ball of nerves as it is only now that she realizes how delicate her baby really is – especially his/her head!
It is natural for any mother to be concerned when she finds some soft spots on her baby’s head. They are so soft that any person would think twice before touching out of fear that they may damage them. However, while it is imperative to be extremely careful about the head while cradling a baby, there is nothing to be really fearful about.
So, What Are These Soft Spots?
At the time of birth, the infant’s head needs to be of the right size and flexible enough to squeeze through the birth canal. Therefore, an infant’s skull is generally soft and the spaces between the bone plates of the skull make it flexible. These spaces that remain open in an infant even after they are born are called fontanelles or soft spots (as they are soft to touch). They are usually on top at the middle of the head (anterior) and back (posterior) of the infant’s skull. Most parents become nervous about it because with no bony structure covering them, at times, the veins under the skin of these fontanelles become slightly visible. However, this is nothing to be worried about because these fontanelles are held strongly by the fibrous and elastic tissues called cranial sutures (1).
How Do These Soft Spots Help The Baby?
As mentioned earlier, the newborn’s head needs to be flexible enough to squeeze through the birth canal. So, at the time of birth, when there is pressure on the baby’s head, these spaces between the bones help the head change shape accordingly. At times, depending on the pressure, the bone plates may even overlap. This process of the head changing the shape is known as molding (2). This is also the reason why a newborn’s head may look oblong for a while after birth. At the time of birth, a newborn baby’s brain is not fully developed. So, during childhood and infancy, the soft spots continue to remain flexible to provide enough room for the brain’s growth. They also protect the baby’s head from minor impacts (3).
How Long Does This Condition Last?
Generally, once the brain is fully developed, the soft spots should close on their own. The posterior fontanelle (at the back of the head) usually closes within 1 or 2 months. Sometimes, it may already be closed at the time of birth. The anterior fontanelle, though, takes some more time to close up, which is nearly 9 to 18 months (4).
What To Look Out For?
Health care providers will generally check the baby’s growth and development by feeling the fontanelles and cranial sutures. By checking the tension of the fontanelles, they’ll be able to assess the pressure inside the brain. The fontanelles should ideally feel firm and flat. They should neither be too depressed and sunken nor bulged out. In case of a bulge, imaging techniques like an MRI or a CAT scan may be performed by the doctor to ascertain the cause. A depressed or sunken fontanelle may be a sign of dehydration, which should be looked into immediately (5).
We hope that this information about your baby’s soft head spots has been helpful to you. They are delicate yet naturally protected from mild impacts. And they are there for an important purpose. Keeping your baby well-hydrated and taking care of his/her head every time you lift, cradle, or feed, are one of the ways to take care of the soft spots. Ensure you are around every time your baby attempts rolling, sitting up, or moving his/her head so that he/she does not hurt himself/herself. A little care and alertness will definitely make it a smooth ride for you and your baby’s brain development.