Caput succedaneum and cephalohematoma are similar – but distinct – birth injuries that cause a baby’s head to swell. They are typically not serious and will heal themselves over a relatively short period.
My Child Has Caput Succedaneum and I’m Worried… What Should I Do?
For most concerned parents, you should know that caput succedaneum and cephalohematoma are not a big deal when not coupled with a brain bleed or other cerebral insult. So many people reading this are parents who have been told their child has caput succedaneum. When it is your newborn child — and I have four myself — it is easy to panic. But the good news is that in the vast majority of cases, caput succedaneum ends up being insignificant.
The bad news is that these conditions can lead to more severe complications in the absence of a health care provider’s prompt diagnosis, vigilance, and effective treatment. The possibility that one of these conditions is connected with or arising from a more serious birth injury also means that immediate medical attention should be given to diagnosing and providing any necessary treatment for these conditions.
You can not underscore enough the importance of prompt and effective diagnosis and treatment of caput succedaneum or cephalohematoma. What would otherwise have been harmless can grow to become a more serious—sometimes life-long—condition on account of medical negligence. This can arise from failing to recognize the issue during or after delivery, a failure to provide proper treatment (such as a C-section, when warranted), or even failing to diagnose precipitating causes of the injuries before birth. If your child has suffered from one of these conditions because of medical neglect, you should be eligible to receive compensation. Contact me if you are looking for answers about your child’s case.
I will walk you through some of the most frequently asked questions about caput succedaneum and cephalohematoma.
What is caput succedaneum?
What causes caput succedaneum?
What are the symptoms of caput succedaneum?
The most prominent symptom of caput succedaneum is puffiness under the skin of the scalp. As a result, your baby’s head might appear to be abnormally large, bulging around the affected area. Once the swelling goes down, the baby’s head resumes its normal shape. Some additional, less common changes which can affect the appearance of your baby’s head include:
- Bruising (and/or color changes) of the baby’s scalp
- Increased molding (elongation) of the baby’s head
Doctors typically express caput succedaneum in terms of these changes in appearance, and symptoms of minor discomfort. But there is a risk that more serious complications can arise along with or because of the condition.
The most important of these for you to know is newborn jaundice, which is characterized by a yellowish-green skin pigmentation because of bilirubin accumulation. If treated immediately, there are typically no long-term problems that will arise from jaundice under these circumstances; but if untreated, jaundice can lead to long-term complications such as kernicterus, a kind of brain damage which can cause:
- Hearing loss
- Athetoid cerebral palsy
- Impaired tooth enamel development
- Permanent upward gaze
Also, if there is a skull fracture underneath your baby’s swelling or if bleeding is extensive, the risks posed by caput succedaneum can be much more serious which is why a full, prompt diagnosis is medically warranted.
How is caput succedaneum diagnosed?
As caput succedaneum can sometimes be caused by or accompanied by more serious conditions, a greater level of examination may be warranted to ensure there are no other related issues such as a skull fracture or extensive bleeding, which can cause more serious complications.
What is the treatment for caput succedaneum?
What is cephalohematoma?
What distinguishes cephalohematoma is that it is a hemorrhage (accumulation) of blood under the scalp and above the baby’s skull. Fortunately, it rarely poses any risk to the brain cells because the blood accumulates above the skull, which means the blood is not applying pressure to the brain.
This condition is also similar but distinct from a subgaleal hematoma, which is characterized by blood accumulating above the periosteum (the membrane covering the outside of bones) directly under the scalp, while cephalohematoma is an accumulation of blood underneath the periosteum. But the similarities stop there. Subgaleal hemorrhages and hematomas carry a grave risk is a bleed that causes a birth injury or death.
What causes cephalohematoma?
The immediate cause of the cephalohematoma’s blood accumulation is damage to the blood vessels which are located under the scalp. This damage typically takes place during labor and delivery, which can be precipitated by a variety of factors such as:
- An infant’s head is larger than their mother’s pelvic area
- Using birth-assisting devices such as forceps or a vacuum
- Difficult and prolonged labor
What are the symptoms of cephalohematoma?
The most obvious symptom of cephalohematoma is a soft, unusual bulge on the back of your baby’s skull. Because of its location under the periosteum, you will probably not see any cut or bruise on the surface of the skin over the bulge. Expect the bulge to feel harder as the blood calcifies and then shrinks and disappears after a few weeks under normal circumstances. Aside from this bulge, there are often no additional (or obvious) symptoms as a result of cephalohematoma. However, cephalohematoma can cause your child developing other conditions, such as:
- Jaundice (yellowing)
- Anemia (low red blood cell counts)
- Hypotension (low blood pressure)
- Infection (such as osteomyelitis)
Furthermore, if accompanied by a more serious condition such as a skull fracture, cephalohematoma can also lead to the growth of this fracture into a leptomeningeal cyst.
Although cephalohematoma is typically not a serious condition, if these other conditions arise from or accompany it there is a possibility that your child may experience developmental delays, motor skill deficiencies, and a non-resolution of the condition. In more acute instances, long-term risks include the development of cerebral palsy. For this reason, your child must be promptly diagnosed and provided with any necessary treatment for this condition, even though it is typically only a minor affliction.
How is cephalohematoma diagnosed?
What is the treatment for cephalohematoma?
If the condition does not rectify itself within a few months, it is recommended that you seek renewed medical attention and consider whether additional treatment is necessary.