When I became a mother to my twin boys, all my joys and worries were doubled! When I discovered the soft spots on their heads, my worries grew further. Because they were premature and small, I didn’t want to touch the spots even accidentally lest I cause them injury. Advice from a good doctor helped alleviate my fears and monitor the soft spots as my children grew up, and I share my experience with you in this article.
What are soft spots?
Babies are born with two soft areas on the top of their heads. These are known as "fontanels." The soft spots are the areas where the skull bones of your baby have not yet grown. It takes anywhere between about 18–24 months for the skull bones to grow completely and cover the soft spot.
How many soft spots does your baby have?
A baby's head has two soft spots. The larger one is in front of the head and is known as the anterior fontanel. It is a diamond-shaped spot. It can take up to 24 months for this spot to close completely. The smaller soft spot is near the back of the head and is known as the posterior fontanel. It should close by the time your baby is 8 weeks old.
Understanding the anatomy
The skull of the baby is made up of bones and the soft spots are in those places where the bones are yet to fuse or meet. The brain of the baby is growing where the soft spot is located and there is more than just a slightly thick layer of skin that is protecting the developing brain. The soft spot is surrounded by a strong cartilage that protects it while the bones grow to fuse and form the skull.
The brain of your baby grows more rapidly than you think and the soft spots accommodate this growth easily. If the baby had a skull in place before birth, there would be no room for brain growth.
How to handle soft spots?
You do not require a football helmet to protect your baby’s head! You can’t avoid touching the baby’s head. When you give your baby a massage, bathe her or hold her to steady her head, you will need to touch the soft spots. The only precaution you will need to exercise is to ensure that if you have an older child, let her know that she must handle the soft spot gently. Massage and shampoo the area gently without applying any pressure on the soft spot.
What should you look out for?
The soft spot must appear flat at any given point on the baby's head. When you take your baby for regular check-ups, the doctor will measure the circumference and you will be able to gauge if the growth rate is normal. While the soft spots will gradually close as the baby grows up, there are some tell-tale signs that you might want to keep an eye on to monitor the health of your little one. Here are five things to look for:
- Delayed closure: It is normal for the fontanelle to close within 24 months of the birth of the child. If you sense a delay in the closing, you should seek medical advice as there could be an underlying cause that should be investigated.
- Sunken spot: A sunken soft spot indicates extreme dehydration. Other signs to watch out for with a sunken spot is a dry diaper (not passing urine) and/or vomiting.
- Excessively large: If the fontanelle is extremely large, it could be because of premature delivery or reduced growth. This could also be a developmental issue.
- Swollen spot: If you feel the fontanelle looks swollen or has a bulge it could be the sign of an infection like meningitis or the build-up of excess fluid in the brain.
- Early closing: A fontanelle closing early is not a good sign as it can relate to a vision or a growth issue with your baby.
Do not hesitate to consult your doctor if you notice any of these signs.
Applying pressure on the soft spot when you give your baby a massage is not going to make the head round. While the soft spots on your baby’s head are well-protected, you will still need to ensure that they are handled gently. In roughly two years, the bones in the skull will fuse together and the soft spots will close.
The author is an avid blogger and social media consultant.