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What is Caput Succedaneum?

By J. Leach
Updated May 17, 2024
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The phrase caput succedaneum literally means secondary head or bump. A caput succedaneum is the swelling of the soft tissues of the head in a newborn. When a baby is being born in a head-first delivery, pressure is exerted on the head by the muscular contractions of the cervix and the vaginal canal — this can cause damage to the head. The part of the scalp that leads the way through the birth canal is most often affected.

The primary symptom of caput succedaneum is a puffy area, or soft spot, on the head. This puffiness may extend further than the area that first passed through the birth canal. Sometimes an infant experiences bruising, or cephalohematoma, under the periosteum. The periosteum is the tough connective tissue that covers the bones, including the skull.

Such injuries to infants during childbirth have been greatly reduced due to changes in birthing procedures. Modern doctors often favor Caesarean sections for delivering newborns, rather than using instruments, like forceps or vacuum suction, to remove a child from the birth canal. In every 1,000 live births, there are approximately eight newborns who suffer from some form of physical injury related to the birthing process.

When the membranes that surround the baby and amniotic fluid rupture, the child is more likely to develop caput succedaneum. This is because the baby is no longer cushioned and protected from the muscular contractions meant to propel the infant out of the womb. A caput succedaneum is more likely to occur if the delivery of the baby is prolonged or difficult. Large infants are far more susceptible to caput succedaneum than average sized babies.

Caput succedaneum is not a cause for concern. It does not require treatment and it goes away on its own within a few days. Infants usually recover completely from it, but it can cause some minor complications.

If there is excessive bruising due to caput succedaneum, the infant can develop jaundice caused by an excess of bilirubin. Jaundice is a yellow, orange, or brown discoloration of the skin, eyes and mucous membranes caused by the build up of bile pigments, like bilirubin, in the body. Bilirubin is created by dead blood cells and the waste products of blood cells, like the cells that make up a bruise.

It is normal for infants to develop neonatal jaundice. It occurs in over half of births. Neonatal jaundice is typically caused when a newborn’s liver is not fully developed and cannot eliminate waste products like bilirubin efficiently. These waste products tend to build up in the blood stream and tissues, creating the distinctive discolorations that indicate jaundice. These symptoms usually dissipate as the liver slowly begins to eliminate waste from the blood, and redirect it to be passed through the bowels and out of the body in feces.

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