Ever heard of a “cone-headed” baby? It sounds like something out of a movie, or a parent’s nightmares. But caput succedaneum is actually a common condition that occurs in babies after they’re born, to varying degrees.  It’s when a newborn’s scalp swells because of the pressure on it that can occur during vertex (head-first) delivery.

More often than not, this slight malformation resolves on its own shortly after birth. But in some cases it’s a tell-tale sign that a baby is suffering from a serious internal head injury.

Worse still, medical malpractice may be to blame. If you believe your baby is a victim of caput succedaneum caused by medical malpractice, contact Hampton & King to discuss your case.

Caput Succedaneum Description & Causes

Caput Succedaneum refers to swelling on a baby’s head caused by fluid gathering under the skin. This swelling can give the head an unsightly appearance, but it’s usually not a cause for alarm. 

As the baby’s head passes through the birth canal during vaginal delivery, it is subjected to pressure. Because this pressure is focused on the top of the head, a baby’s skull may appear slightly cone-shaped. This is because an infant’s immature skull bones have not yet fused together. 

Father holds his newborn baby.

Is Caput Succedaneum Dangerous?

In most cases, caput succedaneum disappears a few days after birth. But sometimes it’s an indication of something far more serious than a temporarily odd-shaped skull. This is especially true when the swelling is very pronounced. 

What causes a higher grade of swelling? Two words: birth trauma. The more trauma that occurs during natural delivery, the higher the probability of swelling and bruising. The following factors often contribute to birth trauma (when may then lead to head injury):

  • A prolonged delivery. (The baby spends more time “stuck” in the birth canal). 
  • The doctor uses forceps or vacuum extractors to remove the baby. 
  • There isn’t enough amniotic fluid (a condition called oligohydramnios). This often goes hand-in-hand with early membrane rupture. 
  • High birth weight. (Often occurs with full-term or late babies) 
  • It’s the first time the mother has given birth. 
  • The baby’s head is not in an ideal position for delivery. 

Serious Injuries Related To Caput Succedaneum

In most cases, there’s no need for treatment when a baby has a benign case of caput. Besides, those cute newborn hats will cover it right up! 

That said, excessive swelling can be a sign of something much more sinister taking place within the skull. Or, a severe case of caput can lead to other complications that can cause permanent damage if left untreated. 

Potential Caput-Related Complications

  1. Jaundice. Bruising of the skull leads to jaundice, which can become serious if left untreated. Some cases of jaundice cause kernicterus, which in turn may lead to cerebral palsy. 
  2. Necrosis. This term refers to when skin tissue dies from lack of blood flow.  
  3. Scarring. Severe head bruises may turn into scars. 
  4. Alopecia. This is a type of sudden hair loss. Some babies develop circular bald patches, like a halo. 
  5. Infection. Infections from caput are rare, but they sometimes occur when a physician attempts to drain the swelling. 
  6. Bleeding in the brain. This can lead to permanent brain damage.  
  7. Brain trauma. Excessive pressure on the baby’s head can result in irreversible injury. 

It’s important to note that swelling on the top of a baby’s head doesn’t mean that a serious brain injury is a given. However, here’s something to keep in mind: Most babies who suffer neurological damage during birth also have caput succedaneum. 

Medical Malpractice & Caput Succedaneum

Can doctors prevent caput succedaneum? Sometimes that’s impossible, since it’s an inevitable side effect of an infant’s soft skull being pushed through a pressurized birth canal. But what about preventing serious head trauma? That’s a different story. 

An obstetrician can stave off serious head injuries by paying attention to warning signs–like caput succedaneum. These signs can occur both before, during and after delivery. 

For example, a mother might suffer from an early membrane rupture that causes her to lose amniotic fluid. When that happens, there may be too much pressure on a baby’s head while still inside the womb. Doctors may need to intervene to prevent further harm. 

Another warning sign might occur during delivery. A first-time mother delivering an overdue, heavy baby may have a long, difficult labor. Physicians must pay close attention to the baby’s stress levels. They might perform an emergency C-section if there’s a high chance of head trauma. 

Finally, a doctor must examine the baby for warning signs after delivery. If severe caput succedaneum is present, that’s a red flag indicating medical staff should check for symptoms of infant brain injury. 

What happens when a doctor fails to heed warning signs? What if he or she decides not to act according to the “standard of care” (the protocol any trained physician would follow for any given condition)? 

If that’s the case, the doctor is guilty of medical malpractice. A mother may then file a lawsuit against her health care provider(s) to hold them accountable.  In order to win financial compensation, she must prove that her baby suffered a serious, preventable injury due to negligence. 

Example Cases Of Caput-Related Medical Malpractice

In a perfect world, no doctor would knowingly veer outside the standard of care and put an infant at risk for injury. But this isn’t a perfect world, and physicians who make negligent choices must be held accountable. 

Caput-succedaneum related lawsuits aren’t the most common type of birth injury lawsuit, but they do happen. Here are some examples of how caput may tie into a medical malpractice case:

  • A doctor treats a caput improperly by draining the fluid. As a result, the infant comes down with a debilitating infection.  
  • An infant gets stuck during delivery, and the physician uses too much force to remove him. This force causes brain injury leading to intellectual disability. 
  • Physicians fail to notice an early membrane rupture. The baby suffers severe caput and head swelling due to lack of amniotic fluid. This swelling leads to nerve damage in his brain. 
  • A doctor confuses a caput with infant cephalohematoma, a more serious medical condition with similar symptoms. He or she prescribes the wrong treatment, causing complications. 
  • The physician does not check for other signs of head trauma, despite a difficult delivery and an obvious case of caput. 
  • Improper use of forceps causes a severe case of caput, leading to permanent injury.  

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Ready To Pursue A Case?

Is your child the victim of a caput succedaneum-related injury? Our lawyers can help! We handle birth injury cases involving head trauma, kernicterus, cerebral palsy, and more. Let us use our 60+ years of collective experience to your advantage. 

Act now and take the first step toward holding your health care provider accountable. You may be entitled to compensation that can help pay for medical bills, pain and suffering, loss of wages, and more. Call (713) 489-0993 today for a free consultation, or send us a message here