When you first see and feel that soft spot on a baby’s head, the fontanelle or the fontanel, it can be easy to think that something went wrong that caused this spot to appear in the center of the baby’s skull.
What is a fontanel or soft spot on a baby’s head?
The fact of course is that every baby has not just one by several soft spots on the heads, an anatomical feature in the infant’s skull which allows the baby’s head to flex and adjust to the narrowness of the birth canal so that it can pass through.
There are as many as six fontanels on the skull of a new born baby; but only two – one at the top of the head and one a little smaller at the base of the skull are actually perceivable to us.
The main fontanel is the roughly diamond shaped spot between the bony plates of a baby’s head, what can be quite large at the time of birth, but which fuses together by the time a baby is between 18 and 24 months of age.
These soft spots may be large or small; differing largely from baby to baby.
So it could be that a parent finds that their first born had a very large soft spot that seemed to take a long time to fuse, but that their younger one had a smaller fontanel that seemed to fuse together by about 12 months of age – both are perfectly normal.
Do the soft spots require special care?
The fontanel may seem delicate and vulnerable; and feel soft to tough. However the fact is that it is a fontanel made up of a touch canvas like fibrous membrane that is well able to protect the baby’s brain.
The area can be washed or shampooed in the same way as the rest of the skull and can be touched or gently brushed in the same way – this will cause no damage to the baby or the baby’s brain.
So generally speaking the fontanel requires no special care save for the fact that there should be nothing sharp or poky allowed to come into contact with the soft spot (which most reasonably careful parents will protect against anyway).
What is the use of the fontanel?
Now only do the soft spots give the baby’s head flexibility to navigate the birth canal and fit through it, they also allow for the rapid development and growth of the baby’s brain during the first few months of life.
Also the fontanel can sometimes give very important information about the wellbeing of a baby if there is something to be concerned about – a sunken or shrunken looking fontanel may be the sign of dehydration which can be very dangerous for a small baby and which should receive medical attention immediately.
A depressed fontanel is usually an immediate sign to a physician that something is wrong.
A bulging fontanel is also the warning sign of something being wrong and is placing pressure on the brain; again a warning sign that medical attention is needed at once.