The soft spots in your baby’s head are referred to as fontanelles

Fontanelles derive their name from the French word for ‘fountain.’ When you hold your baby’s head, you might feel or even see a strong pulse – the source of the name.

You will probably notice two main fontanelles: one on the top of your baby’s head and the other at the very back. These are the spots where the skull hasn’t yet connected, a process known as ossification.

What is the purpose of fontanelles?

When a baby passes through the birth canal, the skull plates realign to ensure a smoother entry into the big, wide world. The soft spots are gaps in the skull that allow the head to change shape and produce a safer birth for both mum and the baby.

This is why babies’ heads can look kind of strange to new parents or those new to babies (comparison with an alien is not uncommon – we know it’s good-natured!). But don’t worry: this is completely natural.

Fontanelles serve the added purpose of giving your baby’s brain space to rapidly grow – which they’ll be doing a lot of in their first years of life.

Do I need to avoid touching the fontanelles?

No, you don’t. You do need to be gentle with fontanelles, but that also goes for the rest of your newborn. Don’t be afraid to caress, touch and even gently rub your baby’s fontanelles – such as when you are giving a bath or washing their hair.

Don’t fall under the impression, either, that you’re pushing on your baby’s brain when you touch a fontanelle! Your baby’s brain is protected by quite a tough, sturdy membrane. All you need to do is be mindful that these areas are a bit more vulnerable than the harder parts of the skull.

When will the fontanelles disappear?

Your baby’s posterior fontanelle – the soft spot at the back of their head – should disappear around 2 to 4 months old. The anterior fontanelle – the soft spot at the top of your baby’s head – persists well into your baby’s second year of life, usually closing up fully around 18 months of age.

Are there any issues I should be aware of?

During regular check-ups with a midwife or paediatrician, your baby will be monitored for the progression and health of their fontanelles. If, however, you notice that your baby’s fontanelles are sunken (a sign of dehydration) or bulging (an indicator of meningitis) it is important to seek medical attention.