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Columbia University Medical Center, Department of Neurosurgery describes the “soft spot” or fontanel as “one of several gaps between the bones of the skull that, in addition to allowing the skull to expand, are constantly producing new bone to keep up with its growth.”
So actually the head has several soft spots. The one up top near the front of the head is the one most of us are familiar with and cautious of in the early months of our baby’s life. It is the largest of the soft spots and will take the longest to close - up to eighteen months.
The reason for this flexibility in the skull is the rapid growth of the brain in infancy. An infant’s brain will double in size during the first nine months and by 36 months it will triple. During this time parents are always aware of the size and status of the soft spot - knowing this spot is vulnerable. But what’s normal and what’s not? Below are three common complications for soft spots.
Closing Too Soon
When the soft spot closes too soon it can change the cosmetic composition of the skull as the brain grows. If the skull closes at the top then this means the head will grow towards the front and back thus creating deformities in facial features as well as the head shape. It can also cause developmental delays due to added brain pressure. Surgical options exist to help infants who have premature soft spot closure.
The Soft spot is covered by a thick protecting membrane so it’s not as vulnerable as it seems. If the soft spot is caved in, then it’s most likely due to dehydration and a doctor should be consulted to make sure the infant is feeding well.
It is normal to observe the soft spot pulsing with the baby’s heart rate. It is also common for a soft spot to protrude a little bit when the infant is exerting himself when crying, vomiting or sneezing. However if the soft spot is protruding constantly it could mean water on the brain or swelling and should be assessed by your child’s physician. If fever is present it could point to infections such as encephalitis or meningitis. These are emergency situations and the child should be taken to the emergency room to be assessed. Shaken Baby Syndrome can also cause a bulging soft spot and is also an emergency situation. If you suspect that someone has shaken the infant seek medical attention immediately.
Bonnie Jean Feldkamp is a writer and mother of three. If you liked this posting please follow her on Twitter and Instagram @writerbonnie or like her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/WriterBonnie for more great info on Raising Kids.