What Is Caput Succedaneum?

Medically Reviewed by Nivin Todd, MD on April 29, 2023
4 min read

Caput succedaneum is a condition where your baby’s scalp swells shortly after they’re born. This is a type of edema, or fluid collection, just underneath the skin.

Caput succedaneum can look alarming. However, it is usually not dangerous and it will go away on its own.

Here’s everything you need to know about how caput succedaneum affects your baby’s health and how.

Caput succedaneum results from body fluid building up between your baby’s scalp and the protective membrane that covers their skull bones. This membrane is called the periosteum.

Labor. Your baby is fragile. It doesn’t take a lot for them to bruise. Caput succedaneum occurs when your baby’s head has been squeezed or pulled. This is most common during the labor process. 

‌The process of delivery puts a lot of pressure on your baby. Even when dilated for birth, the cervix and vaginal canal still squeeze your baby. This can lead to swelling once they’re born. A labor and delivery that takes a long time or that requires the use of forceps or a vacuum suction tool can increase the risk of swelling.

Not enough amniotic fluid. Your baby’s scalp may be more likely to swell if the amniotic sac breaks early during the delivery. 

Similarly, if the baby is in an amniotic sac with too little fluid, they can be bruised by their mother’s pelvic bones while still in the womb. This can cause caput succedaneum before your baby is born.

Puffiness. Most cases of scalp swelling aren’t dangerous. You’ll notice some symptoms, including:

  • Puffiness under your baby’s scalp, with most of the puffiness on the part of their head that came out of the birth canal first or limited to one side
  • Their head is soft to the touch, to the point where you may leave a small dent
  • ‌Mild bruising around the puffy area, but mostly normal skin
  • ‌A slightly pointed shape to your baby’s head

All of these symptoms are temporary. They should go away within a week. 

Your baby’s skull is delicate, but it’s also resilient. The bones are just starting to fuse. This is why their skull will typically shift back to a rounded shape on its own without any other effects.

Jaundice. Some babies with caput succedaneum may be more likely to face infant jaundice. This is a condition where your baby’s skin appears yellow. It results from an excess amount of an orange-yellow pigment called bilirubin in their blood.

Your baby’s body will rapidly break down and process the fluid that causes their swelling. This means they might produce bilirubin faster than they can pass it through their urine and stool. The bilirubin then becomes visible under their skin. This is what makes them look yellow.

In most cases, this condition will also pass without additional treatment in 2 to 3 weeks. However, if you have concerns, always talk to your baby’s doctor. Some cases of infant jaundice require treatment to prevent additional problems.

Caput succedaneum isn’t the only condition that can cause your baby to have a bump on their head. Cephalohematoma occurs when body fluids collect between the periosteum and the skull bones, instead of the periosteum and the skin. It can also lead to a bump, but it’s a more serious health hazard. Unlike caput succedaneum, it involves significant bruising and may not resolve on its own.

A cephalohematoma generally forms slowly. It may not be present until days after your baby is born. Unlike caput succedaneum, it forms a firm bump that doesn’t easily dent when you touch it. It’s more likely to occur on just one side of the head. The resulting bump is often much more dramatically colored than a caput succedaneum injury.

‌Always talk to your doctor if your baby develops swelling after you come home from the hospital or if they have a significant bruise on their head. Some cases of cephalohematoma can indicate that your baby suffered a skull fracture during birth. This must be treated as soon as possible to protect their brain.

Your baby’s health is important. Whenever you have questions about their health or whether something is wrong, it’s always better to be safe than sorry. Your baby’s doctor will usually be able to quickly diagnose whether they have caput succedaneum, a cephalohematoma, or another problem.

Most causes of swelling can be treated easily or will resolve on their own. Checking with your doctor about any concerns will help you feel confident that your baby is healthy.