Caput succedaneum, occasionally referred to as simply “caput,” references a medical condition frequently seen in childbirth by which the newborn infant’s cranium incurs some measure of swelling, usually as a byproduct of the vaginal birth process. During labor, the infant’s delivery causes substantial pressure on the sensitive cranium and skull of the child, as it presses against the uterus and vaginal walls. In general, this common birth complication is fairly benign, if proper medical supervisor occurs during and immediately following the birth. However, if left untreated or unnoticed by medical professionals, long-term and highly serious medical complications can develop for the child.
If left untreated, caput succedaneum in infants can provoke jaundice in neonatal patients, which in turn, if left untreated, can result in a brain-damage type condition known as kernicterus that has been shown by medical researchers to be a cause of auditory difficulties in children, dental problems by way of decreased tooth enamel growth, visual gaze issues, and above all, athetoid cerebral palsy.
Factors Increasing the Possibility of Less-Benign Caput Succedaneum
While any vaginal birth will result in some measure of temporary swelling of an infant’s skull, certain birth contexts present the increased possibility of vaginal and uterine pressure causing swelling that is less than benign. For example, labor processes taking longer than average, as well as infants that are relatively larger than average or disproportionately large in comparison to the mother, increase the likelihood of increased cranial pressure experienced by the infant.
It should be noted that caput succedaneum generally only occurs in instances where the amniotic member has broken, or while certain labor processes may appear prolonged, the risk for infants in terms of birth process pressures on the skull relates to the loss of cranial support upon the break of the amniotic sac. Complicating this fact is the reality that a small percentage of natural births feature premature amniotic membrane rupture prior to the labor process, and in certain cases, obstetrician use of vacuum extraction in complicated births also increased pressure on the skull of the infant.
Preventing Caput Succedaneum
Certain birthing and delivery management methods that can be done that could reduce the likelihood of getting a caput. However, because of the minor problems caused by a caput in comparison to some other more serious complications that could arise through other birthing methods, taking actions solely to reduce the risk of a child getting a caput may not be advisable.
Symptoms and Complications Arising from a Caput Succedaneum
Symptoms of caput succedaneum might include any of the following on an infant:
- Scalp swelling
- Bruising and scalp discoloration
- Swelling on the specific portion of the head that was extracted from the birthing canal first
- Increased molding in the bones in the head
As with any recent birth, it is important to be careful with the head of a child with caput succedaneum, but the disorder itself, if properly monitored and treated by medical professionals, is not something that should cause fear.
Spotting and Testing for Caput Succedaneum in an Infant
Because caput succedaneum usually occurs at birth or before, the attending physician should visually spot the problem by taking a simple look at the child’s head. Therefore, no further steps should need to be taken to diagnose this problem, and such, the physician is obligated to adhere to professional standards of practice in terms of ensuring jaundice does not develop.
Treatments for Caput Succedaneum
There are no cures for caput succedaneum. However, treatment is very rarely needed anyway as the problem usually goes away on its own shortly after the child is born. Within a few days of the birth, the swelling will go down and the skull will reshape to its right position. While nothing needs to be done to correct the caput succedaneum, if this problem does cause jaundice, this is an immediate medical condition requiring medical intervention as soon as possible to resolve. Untreated jaundice can cause serious health complications, most commonly that of kernicterus, a form of brain damage that can cause hearing loss among other serious permanent damages to the infant in the form of cerebral palsy. Therefore, if a child does present with caput succedaneum, medical professionals are under an obligation to place the newborn under observation until the caput succedaneum heals to ensure that jaundice and the ensuring potential birth complications do not arise.