Caput succedaneum is the medical term for the swelling of a newborn infant’s scalp immediately after childbirth. When caput succedaneum occurs, it usually occurs from pressure on the baby’s head during delivery. It can occur in both vaginal deliveries and C-sections.

During pregnancy, the baby grows inside an amniotic sac. The amniotic sac is filled with fluid that surrounds the baby, acts as a shock absorber, and cushions the baby. 

At some point in a typical vaginal delivery, the amniotic sac ruptures. This is the iconic “water breaking” part of the delivery. 

Once the water breaks, labor should start soon, usually within 24 hours. The longer it takes for a baby to be born after the water breaks, the higher the risk of an adverse birth outcome, like caput succedaneum. 

In C-sections, caput succedaneum can result from pressure on the baby’s head during the procedure. Thankfully, many cases of caput succedaneum are not severe. 

Symptoms of Caput Succedaneum

The primary symptom of caput succedaneum is swelling limited to the baby’s head. 

Other symptoms include:

  • Soft, puffy spot on the baby’s head
  • Change in color or bruising on the swollen spot
  • Swelling that stretches to both sides of the scalp

Most often, the swelling of caput succedaneum occurs where the baby’s head presented first. 

One possible complication of caput succedaneum is jaundice. Jaundice is the yellowing of skin and eyes.  

Other complications of caput succedaneum include: 

  • Necrosis that leads to scarring
  • Alopecia (hair loss)
  • Systemic infection

Caput succedaneum might sometimes be misdiagnosed as the severe birth injury hydrocephalus

Causes of Caput Succedaneum

In many cases, caput succedaneum is a benign condition. It’s harmless and resolves itself without treatment. 

There are some risk factors and events that increase the likelihood of caput succedaneum.

Risk Factors 

Greater maternal age increases the risk for all adverse birth outcomes, including caput succedaneum. In addition to maternal risk factors, some babies may be at greater risk for caput succedaneum. 

High birth-weight, or macrosomic, babies are more likely to be diagnosed with caput succedaneum. Since they are larger, they experience pressure on their heads during their time in the birth canal. Full-term or overdue newborns are more at risk of being high birth-weight than premature babies. 

Ruptured Membranes or Amniotic Sac

Incidents of caput succedaneum correlate with incidents that cause the membranes and amniotic sac to break. Some such incidents include long and difficult labor. 

Once the water breaks, the baby is no longer cushioned inside the amniotic sac. if the baby is not born within 24 hours, the pressure from the baby’s weight on its head can lead to caput succedaneum and infection, in some cases. 

Lengthy labor does not always result in caput succedaneum. For preterm babies, the risk of caput succedaneum is lower even if the mother’s labor after the water breaking exceeds 24 hours.

Maternal Trauma During Pregnancy

Caput succedaneum can be caused by events other than protracted labor. A car accident during pregnancy might also rupture the membranes or amniotic sac. If you were involved in a car accident and your baby was born with caput succedaneum, you should contact a personal injury attorney to learn about your legal rights. 

Vacuum Extraction

Giving birth is not always easy. Babies can be breech or get stuck in the vaginal canal. 

When a delivery gets complicated, doctors can use tools to help the baby be born. Two common tools used to facilitate delivery, forceps and vacuum extractors, can both cause caput succedaneum. 

When used properly, vacuum extractors are a helpful tool to bring about a delivery. However, they increase the risk of injury during birth. Unfortunately, if a doctor fails to exercise the appropriate skill and technique in using a vacuum extractor, the parent of a child who suffers caput succedaneum as a result may have a claim for medical malpractice

To learn more, call our personal injury law firm at 410-837-2144 or visit our contact us page to send us an email.