One of the things that we talk about in our BabyNatal Practical Baby Care classes and our BabyNatal Caring for Your Newborn courses is newborn appearance.
Because newborn babies don’t exactly look like the ones we’re used to seeing on TV programmes and Hollywood movies. Often, the so-called ‘newborn’ babies we see on TV are already a couple of months old.
This is why, to manage expectations for new parents who may have never seen a newborn baby before, we include a few bits of information in our classes that prepare new parents about what they might notice in their sweet bundles of joy.
So we talk about the umbilical cord and stump, and we advise parents on how to care for it. We mention the fact that a baby may or may not have birthmarks, of which the Mongolian Blue Spot is one example.
But we also mention the fact that newborn babies have two soft spots (or fontanels), one on the top of the head and one at the back of the head.
Let’s find out a bit more about what these are and why they are there.
Why do babies have a soft spot on the top of their heads?
The soft spot (or fontanel) on top of a baby’s head represents a gap between the baby’s skull bones. Essentially, the skull bones haven’t fully fused together yet.
And come to think of it, this is quite a clever design by Mother Nature, as human babies already have big heads as it is – compared, of course, to the newborn little ones of other mammals. So in order for a full-term baby to pass through the narrow birth canal, the skull bones are yet to fully join up – this allows the head to (bear with us) mould slightly while it goes through the birth canal. Overall, this helps making the birth process a little easier.
This is why newborn babies may have a slightly misshaped head when they’re born, but you needn’t worry about that, as their head shape will start to change in the days following the birth.
So what happens to the soft spot after the birth?
The soft spot stays there until your baby is much older. In fact, it’s expected to close when the baby is around 18 months of age!
Despite having played its fundamental role in helping baby have an easier descent into the birth canal, the fontanel also allows for your baby’s brain to grow. If the skull bones were fused together, it’d be harder for the brain to grow in size, and we know that a baby’s brain develops and grows a lot in the first year!
Can I touch my baby’s soft spot?
You can of course touch it gently, but make sure not to apply any force when you do. The soft spot is well-protected by a sturdy membrane, so when you pass your finger onto your baby’s soft spot you’re not feeling your baby’s brain, so to speak!
I’ve seen a doctor / paediatrician touching my baby’s soft spot. Why do they do that?
Doctors may sometimes examine a baby’s fontanel to check for signs of specific conditions.
If the fontanel is quite caved in, it can be a sign of dehydration. If, on the other hand, it’s bulging out, this could be a sign of head trauma, fluid building up around the brain or a sign of an infection in the lining of the brain, for example meningitis.
These conditions are very serious but also very rare! We are not telling you this in order to alarm you, but just so you know why your doctor may decide to check your baby’s soft spot when examining them.
It’s normal for the fontanel to pulsate sometimes – it tends to pulse with your baby’s heartbeat.
Did you mention that babies have TWO soft spots?
Indeed, they do! Babies have a second fontanel, which is also there because the skull bones haven’t fused together yet. It’s at the back of their head, at the base of the neck.
This soft spot is of triangular shape and is definitely much less noticeable than the one on the top of the head. It also closes up a lot earlier, when the baby is around 2-4 months old. The only advice we can give you is to be careful when you are sliding your fingers under your baby’s head to pick them up – it’s best if you don’t press on it and try and be gentle with it, as you would with the one on top of the baby’s head.
Did you know about your baby’s soft spots? How do you feel about them? Do you feel nervous touching them?