The idea of the 'soft spot' can sound scary to new parents. Anxiety around how to treat your newborn’s head is understandable, but with the right information, you'll learn that it's safe to touch your newborn's head. Common worries about soft spots are manageable.
The 'soft spot' is an area of your baby's skull, which is yet to connect to itself. A strong, sturdy membrane still covers the brain, so no need to feel like you could be pressing on or harming your baby's brain. These soft spots are slightly more vulnerable and require a gentle touch, of course, but shouldn't be a point of panic or stress for parents.
The technical terms
Soft spots are called 'fontanelles'. 'Fontanelle' is French for 'fountain'; you may feel or see a pulse in your baby's fontanelle. There are two fontanelles: posterior and anterior. The anterior fontanelle is a soft spot at the back of your baby's head. The posterior fontanelle is on top of the head.
Fontanelles do close up as the skull grows to meet itself. This is called ossification. You can expect the posterior fontanelle to disappear around 2 to 4 months of age. The anterior fontanelle lasts until around 18 months but could last longer. If your baby's head spots still seem soft past these milestone ages, or if they seem particularly sunken or bulging, consult your doctor.
Why is my baby's head soft?
Fontanelles makes it easier for a baby to exit the birth canal. If the skull was hard and fully formed before labor, it would be more difficult for a mum to push. A newborn's skull is thinner and more flexible than older kids or adults so that the head can withstand the pressure of birth. The brain develops rapidly in the first years of life, so the soft spots allow extra room for growth.
Should I be worried about Flathead Syndrome?
Flathead syndrome is what it sounds like – a 'flattening' of a portion of a newborn's head (generally one side, or the back). Flathead syndrome has not been suggested to affect brain development. There are preventative measures, and ways to try to manage should you notice flattening taking place. To minimize chances of flathead syndrome in your newborn, you can consider these approaches:
- Avoid periods of prolonged pressure on any one part of your child's head.
- Switch up feeding positions/which side your baby is resting on.
- When laying your baby down for naps, alternate which direction you turn your head to fall asleep. Do not use a pillow to adjust head position; babies don't need to sleep with pillows, which can be a hazard if left in a cot.
- Supervise 'tummy-time during the day. Laying on their front can improve a baby's neck strength. Always keep an eye on tummy-time and never let your baby sleep in this position.
- Hold your baby or carry them in a secure sling or front-carrier. Keeping them upright gives their heads a break from the pressure.
Don't worry too much about flathead syndrome but if you feel there is cause for concern, your doctor can provide support and advice to help your little one's head develop. For the first six weeks of life, babies' heads can seem asymmetrical or misshapen, but they usually remold soon enough.
You can touch your baby's soft spots. Washing their hair or head or caressing them is fine. Just be gentle and tender as always.