Why is it said that a baby’s head may sink?

One of the most common myths that exist in Mexico is that the fontanelle, or soft spot, (that soft hole in the head of babies) can “sink” if you do not hold a child correctly, or remove the bottle very quickly while he is feeding.

But it is also believed that it happens because the child hit his head or was given the “evil eye”.

If you observe any change in the baby’s fontanelle, for example, that it is sunken, avoid taking it to the lady who “cures”; the only thing she will do is rub the “soft spot” and turn the little one upside down.

Then, she will hit him on his feet and that “can cause bleeding inside the baby’s head and impair the function of her brain”, says Dr. Mariana Ramos Antuna, a pediatrician at Jurica Medical Center.

The specialist comments that, if parents observe any alteration in the fontanelle, for example, that it is sunken or bulging, they should take their little one to their pediatrician for an evaluation, since it may be dehydration or cranial pressure.

Learn more about fontanelles

Fontanelles are the “soft parts” that are located on the top of the head. These soft spots are gaps between the bones of the skull that, because they have not closed completely, facilitate the baby’s passage through the birth canal.

“The head circumference of a newborn is approximately 34 centimeters, and after a year, it will measure about 46 centimeters”, says Ramos Antuna.

The pediatric consultation of a baby is of the utmost importance. Part of that checkup is measuring the head circumference.

If it stops growing, it means that the fontanelles are closing and are not allowing the baby’s head to grow. This is an important warning, explains the pediatrician: “An evaluation with a pediatric neurologist should be requested, and in some cases, with a pediatric neurosurgeon”.

The smallest fontanelle at the back of the head usually closes within the two and three months of age. The largest fontanelle, on the forehead, often closes at around the 18 months of age.

Mayo Clinic

Pediatrician Ramos Antuna points out that it is normal and healthy for a baby to have fontanelles.

The best known is the anterior fontanelle, colloquially called “soft spot“, which is covered by a fibrous layer that has a slight depression –through which heart beats are felt– and pediatricians tend to touch gently in monthly check-ups.

When the baby is born, these soft parts have not ossified because the brain continues to grow, otherwise, it could not expand, “If the fontanelle were closed at birth, the brain would have nowhere to grow.

The child would be left with a small head and, therefore, there would not have a good neurological development“, she explains.

Dehydration sign

Once the fontanelle is closed, you will no longer feel that little hole, but, while the “soft spot” has not closed completely, it is an indicator for doctors that the baby is healthy and in an adequate state of hydration.

People often say that the baby has a suddenly “sunken soft spot”; this may be because the cranial pressure decreased, which is a sign of dehydration, says the pediatrician.

“If the baby has vomit or diarrhea and the parents notice the fontanelle is a little sunken, they should see their pediatrician or go to the emergency room”, she explains.

And if it rises or bulges, it means that there is an increase in pressure inside the skull. This must be discussed with the doctor, because it may be infections in the central nervous system.

”It could be an accumulation of cerebrospinal fluid, which is the fluid that covers the brain, or the presence of a tumor. Meningitis is an inflammation of the covering of the brain and can also alter the shape of the fontanelle”.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends parents learn to recognize dehydration and see a doctor if there are any concerns, with or without a sunken soft spot.

Translated by: Ligia M. Oliver Manrique de Lara

Spanish version: Here

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