What is your newborn’s fontanelle?

by Catriona Watson |

When your baby is born they will undergo several newborn check-ups and tests. As well as being weighed and undergoing an in-depth physical examination, the doctor will check the baby's fontanelle. But what exactly is a fontanelle? When you have a baby you are often bamboozled by medical terms that are completely new to you. We are here to clear that up by explaining everything you need to know about fontanelles in newborn babies.

What is a fontanelle?

When a baby is born, their skull bones are not yet joined together firmly. The gaps between these bones are important as they give the bones room to move and overlap during labour when the baby passes through the birth canal. The spaces also allow the baby's brain to grow and develop.

These gaps or spaces are called fontanelles. They often occur at the front on top of the head or at the back. There is no need for parents to worry about touching the fontanelles as although they are often described colloquially as 'soft spots' they are actually very hard to penetrate as they are protected by a strong membrane or layer of tissue.

Healthline explains that "A baby’s soft spots should be relatively firm and curve ever so slightly inward" - if they curve is noticeably inward this may be a sunken fontanelle (see below).

Why are fontanelles important?

Variation or abnormalities in the fontanelles can suggest certain things about your baby's development and health. A nurse or doctor will examine them immediately after birth and during check-ups. The fontanelle can be enlarged, sunken or bulging which can indicate certain diseases or specific health issues in infants. If your baby's fontanelle is sunken, bulging or enlarged it is best to contact a doctor so they can be treated. Some baby's fontanelles may become enlarged if the child is vomiting or has a bug but it is still a good idea to check with a medical professional. Here are some of the health issues and diseases associated with abnormalities in the fontanelle:

Health issues or diseases associated with the fontanelle:

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1) Bulging - Encephalitis

A bulging fontanelle can indicate Encephalitis which is swelling or inflammationo of the brain, most often due to infections.

When should a fontanelle close?

Gradually, the fontanelles harden and close. According to Health Direct, "The fontanelle at the back of your baby's head usually closes by the time your baby is 2 months old. The fontanelle at the top usually closes sometime between the ages of 7 months and 18 months".

Why does the fontanelle pulsate?

Fontanelles often pulsate although the cause of this is unclear. It often seems to echo the heartbeat and is totally normal. The name fontanelle came from the pulsating action - it is a French borrowing from 'fontenele' meaning 'spring' which relates to a dent or rock in the earth where a spring arises.

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