Causes & Symptoms of Cephalohematoma
Gregg Hollander | January 24, 2022 | Brain Injuries
Whether you have one child or many children, you undoubtedly worry about their health. Seeing a huge bump on a child’s head soon after birth can trigger fear, anger, and concern in a parent.
Cephalohematoma is a rare birth injury that occurs in one to two percent of newborns. It can cause complications, but most children will recover within a few months.
Here is some background on the causes and symptoms of cephalohematoma.
How Cephalohematoma Happens
Cephalohematoma is a blood-filled bump on your newborn’s head. The bump sits outside of the skull beneath the scalp. As a result, it does not affect the brain.
This bump happens due to pressure on the head during labor and delivery. The pressure causes small blood vessels under the scalp to burst and leak blood. Blood then pools between the skull and scalp.
The pressure of the blood stops the bleeding. But the accumulated blood will create visible distortion in the shape of the baby’s head.
Some factors that increase the risk of cephalohematoma include:
- Use of forceps or vacuum devices during delivery
- Long labor
- Abnormal fetal position before birth
Prolonged labor or abnormal position increases the risk of the baby’s head being squeezed against the cervix, birth canal, or pelvic bone during contractions.
Similarly, a vaginal birth using forceps or a vacuum extractor can pull the baby’s scalp and tear blood vessels.
Symptoms of Cephalohematoma
The most apparent symptom of cephalohematoma is a bulge or bump on your baby’s scalp. The bump feels firm because blood coagulates inside the bulge. The bump will have defined boundaries.
The bump usually happens on the right side of the baby’s head. But occasionally, it will appear on the left or cross the right and left sides.
A cephalohematoma does not look like a bruise. The skin will not appear discolored. But if you illuminate the bulge, coagulated blood will block light from passing through.
Doctors can have difficulty differentiating between a cephalohematoma and caput succedaneum. Caput succedaneum happens when fluid collects between the skull and the scalp.
Both produce a similar bulge in your baby’s scalp. Since the bulge fills with fluid in caput succedaneum, it will feel squishy or soft. The bulge will also move when you press on it.
It will have an ill-defined boundary. And unlike cephalohematoma, caput succedaneum usually covers both the left and right sides of the head.
Prognosis for Cephalohematoma
The blood-filled bulge will take time to go down. The body must break down the blood and carry it away. This process can take a few weeks.
This prognosis distinguishes cephalohematoma from caput succedaneum. Since the bulge fills with fluid in caput succedaneum, it usually shrinks within a few days.
Doctors usually allow cephalohematoma to resolve without treatment. Although doctors could drain the bulge, this introduces the risk of infection.
Cephalohematoma can cause complications. The baby may experience anemia because blood has pooled under the scalp instead of circulating in the baby’s body.
The baby might also develop jaundice. As the body breaks down the coagulated blood inside the bulge, it releases bilirubin. High bilirubin levels in the blood cause jaundice.
Both anemia and jaundice can have serious health effects. Your baby’s doctor should monitor your child’s iron and bilirubin levels after cephalohematoma.
Compensation for Cephalohematoma
Cephalohematoma is rare, but it is a reasonable and harmless side effect of the delivery process. In most cases, cephalohematoma alone would not justify a medical malpractice case.
But occasionally, cephalohematoma is a sign of larger problems. As many as 25% of babies with cephalohematoma also have a skull fracture. This might prove that your doctor was careless during delivery and may have committed malpractice.
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