Most people are unaware that babies actually have a baby soft spot on the top of the head which is diamond or kite shaped (anterior fontanel) and another one at the back of the head which is triangular (posterior fontanel).
A newborn soft spot exists where the skull has not completely closed at birth. The anterior fontanel is generally about two inches wide and can remain to some degree until the baby is around eighteen months of age. The posterior fontanel is only half an inch wide and closes relatively quickly between the ages of six to twelve weeks.
A baby soft spot is very important to the baby’s wellbeing. First, the gap in the skull makes the baby’s journey down the birth canal easier because it allows the head to change shape. For example, you may have seen a baby born with a cone shaped head. The fontanel also allows the head to return to a normal shape after the birth. Second, baby soft spots allow the brain to grow and develop during the first year of life. A baby’s brain grows very quickly during the first year of life and needs room to grow. Once closed, a skull cannot stretch or expand.
The baby’s newborn soft spot is also used by doctors to help with diagnosis when your baby is unwell. A depressed fontanel, for example, indicates dehydration while a bulging fontanel can be a symptom of meningitis. A swollen fontanel could also be a sign of other infection. If a baby soft spot is either depressed or swollen, you need to have the baby checked by a pediatrician. When the baby is well, the fontanel will expand and move as the baby moves, breathes, laughs or cries.
Since there is no skull over the baby soft spot protecting the baby’s brain, you need to be extra careful around that area. It is particularly important to ensure that older siblings do not push down on the fontanel when playing with baby. However, having said this, many people are overly worried about their baby’s soft spots and afraid to touch the area for fear of doing damage. The fact is the baby soft spot actually protects the baby from most common forms of damage. The soft membrane cushions the brain so that he or she is protected from common baby falls and risks. Although the fontanel is soft, it is made of a tough, fibrous membrane. It is the uncommon accidents or pressures that become more dangerous without a closed skull, not the normal bumps and falls of babies learning to crawl and walk.
However, if you are concerned about your baby’s newborn soft spot for any reason, ask your doctor at the baby’s next check-up. This will alleviate any concerns you may have and make sure that your baby is healthy and well.