What Is Caput Succedaneum?

Caput Succedaneum in a Newborn

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 prolonged 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 Symptoms, Description & Causes

First, what is it, and what causes it?

What is Caput Succedaneum & What Causes it?

Caput Succedaneum is the 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.

When the mother’s water breaks (the amniotic sac ruptures), the baby loses its protective cushioning. And as the baby’s head passes through the birth canal during vaginal delivery, it’s subjected to pressure.

Caput succedaneum is usually the result of excess pressure on the infant’s head during birth. 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.

What are the Symptoms of Caput Succedaneum?

Newborn babies might show these signs:

  • A soft, swollen spot on the top of their head.
  • The swollen spot might look bruised or change color.
  • This swelling can be on both sides of the head.
  • It’s usually seen on the part of the head that came out first during birth.

Cephalohematoma is a similar condition that causes swelling and a bump on an infant’s head. The difference between cephalohematoma and caput succedaneum though, is where the fluids build up. With cephalohematoma, fluids build up between the skull bones and the periosteum, not the periosteum and the skin. It’s a more serious complication than caput succedaneum. It may not go away without the proper treatment, so it’s very important for your doctor to get the diagnosis right.

Is Caput Succedaneum Dangerous?

As far as birth injuries go, it’s usually not too bad. 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 can contribute to birth trauma (which may then lead to an injury to the baby’s head):

  • A prolonged delivery. (The baby spends more time “stuck” in the birth canal).
  • The doctor uses forceps or vacuum-assisted delivery to remove the newborn baby.
  • There isn’t enough amniotic fluid (oligohydramnios) which causes increased pressure from the mother’s pelvic bones. 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.
  • C-sections, a surgical procedure that can cause trauma, especially when performed under emergency conditions.
  • Pitocin, a drug used to induce labor, but can also cause contractions to become too strong.
  • Epidurals, which can cause a drop in blood pressure which can affect the baby’s oxygen supply.

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 Succedaneum-Related Complications

  1. Infant jaundice. Bruising of the skull can lead 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 (or cells or another type of tissue) dies due to factors like lack of blood flow through the blood vessels.
  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 baby’s 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 healthcare 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’s how.

Mistakes that can lead to caput-related birth injuries and birth injury lawsuits:

  • Improper fluid drainage while treating caput, causing a debilitating infection in the baby.
  • Excessive force during delivery causing a brain injury and future intellectual disability.
  • Failure to notice early membrane rupture, which leads to severe caput, head swelling, and ultimately nerve damage in the brain.
  • Prescribing the wrong treatment due to confusing caput with infant cephalohematoma.
  • Failing to check for other signs of head trauma despite a difficult delivery and clear symptoms of caput.
  • Improper use of forceps causes a severe case of caput, leading to permanent injury.

Seek legal advice image.

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.

Caput Succedaneum – Quick Answers

What is caput succedaneum?

Caput succedaneum is swelling and bumps on a baby’s head. (Caused by pressure during delivery.) Sometimes this is unavoidable. But sometimes it’s caused by negligence and leads to medical malpractice lawsuits.

How long does caput succedaneum take to resolve?

Caput succedaneum usually doesn’t take very long to resolve. It shouldn’t take much longer than a couple of days after the delivery. And usually without any need for intervention. Cephalohematoma is similar, but potentially longer (it can take a few weeks).

What increases the risk of caput succedaneum?

Extracting the baby with forceps or vacuum extraction can contribute to caput succedaneum. Longer deliveries can too, and bigger babies, especially if the baby has been sitting low in the birth canal for a long time before being born. Things that negatively affect fetal cerebral blood flow can increase the risk too, like the physical stresses of labor and delivery.

What is the difference between caput succedaneum and cephalohematoma?

Both involve swelling or bumps on the baby’s head. But caput succedaneum is swelling caused by pressure on the baby’s head. Cephalohematoma is caused by bleeding beneath the baby’s scalp.

What are the causes of caput succedaneum?

Most typically, caput succedaneum is the result of excess pressure to the infant’s head during birth. This pressure can come from the vaginal wall and uterine pressure. And in some unfortunate cases, when doctors use a vacuum to help the infant come out. Sometimes, this results in medical malpractice cases. (When the baby’s doctor is negligent.)

How do doctors deal with caput succedaneum?

In most cases, doctors say there’s no need to treat the caput succedaneum. It typically gets better without interference. Usually, caput succedaneum doesn’t cause big problems in the labor and delivery process, or after. It’ll likely go away after a few days, give or take. That said, in some rare cases, it can cause jaundice. This can be dangerous. If your baby is harmed and you think the doctor was negligent, speak with a medical malpractice attorney right away.

What are the symptoms of caput succedaneum?

Puffiness on the scalp; swelling and bumps on the baby’s head. These are symptoms of caput succedaneum, which is caused by pressure on the infant’s head during delivery.

How is caput succedaneum diagnosed?

Doctors can diagnose caput succedaneum in babies still in the womb, using an ultrasound. Otherwise, the doctor can diagnose the infant after birth, by observing the symptoms above.

Does caput succedaneum cross the suture line on the infant’s head?

Yes, caput succedaneum can extend over the suture lines on a baby’s head. This means it can spread across the different sections of the skull bones. Like we discussed before, caput succedaneum is post-birth swelling on a newborn’s scalp, caused by pressure on the baby’s head during delivery.

How do you treat caput succedaneum at home?

Caput succedaneum usually gets better on its own and doesn’t need special treatment. But always defer to your doctor’s advice. At home, if your doctor gives you the green light, you can gently care for your baby’s head and make sure they’re comfortable. If you have any worries, it’s a good idea to talk to a doctor.