Fontanel: The Soft Spot on Your Baby’s Head Explained

October 6th, 2023
Fontanel: The Soft Spot on Your Baby’s Head Explained

The Fontanel Mystery: What's That Soft Spot?

If you're a new parent or soon-to-be one, you've probably heard about the "soft spots" on a baby's head, formally known as fontanels. But what are they, why do they exist, and should you be concerned? Let's delve into the science and significance of fontanels.

Fontanel Fundamentals: The Basics

Fontanel-soft spot

Fontanel-soft spot

Fontanels are soft, membranous gaps between the bones of a baby's skull. They serve a crucial purpose: allowing the baby's head to compress enough to pass through the birth canal. After birth, they provide room for the brain to grow rapidly.

The Different Types: It's Not Just One Spot

There are actually two main fontanels:

  1. Anterior Fontanel: Located at the top of the head.
  2. Posterior Fontanel: Found at the back of the head.

Why Do Fontanels Exist?

Fontanels aren't just a quirk of nature; they have specific functions:

  1. Facilitate Childbirth: They make the skull flexible during delivery.
  2. Brain Growth: They allow room for the brain to expand.
  3. Clinical Indicators: They can signal underlying health issues.

Fontanel-newborn-baby-head-soft-spot-2-child's head

Signs to Watch For: When to Seek Help

While fontanels are generally harmless, certain signs warrant medical attention:

  1. Sunken Fontanel: Could indicate dehydration.
  2. Bulging Fontanel: May be a sign of increased intracranial pressure.
  3. Delayed Closure: Most fontanels close by 18-24 months; delayed closure could indicate a problem.

Diagnosis: How Fontanels Are Assessed

If you have concerns about your baby's fontanels, here's what to expect:

  1. Physical Examination: A simple touch can provide a lot of information.
  2. Ultrasound: In rare cases, to examine the brain underneath.
  3. Additional Tests: If other symptoms are present.


Treatment: Usually, It's a Waiting Game

Most of the time, fontanels close up on their own as the child grows. However, if there are underlying issues, treatment will focus on addressing those.

The Emotional Side: Parental Concerns

It's natural to feel a bit anxious about this soft spot on your baby's head, but rest assured, it's a normal part of infant anatomy designed to protect your little one.

Fontanel Development Through Infancy

As your baby grows, so does the intrigue surrounding fontanels. Understanding the timeline of fontanel closure and the milestones associated with it can provide reassurance to concerned parents.

Closure Timeline

Fontanels don't stay soft indefinitely. The anterior fontanel, located at the top of the head, typically closes by the time a baby reaches 18 to 24 months of age. The posterior fontanel, situated at the back of the head, closes even earlier, usually within a couple of months after birth. The gradual closure process is a natural part of the infant's development, signaling the maturation of the skull bones.

Milestones and Developmental Significance

As fontanels close, they mark significant developmental milestones. The closure is often associated with the baby's increasing ability to support their head, sit up, and eventually stand. Parents may observe changes in the shape of the baby's head as the skull bones fuse together, creating a more solid and defined structure.

Fontanel Abnormalities: Red Flags for Parents

While the majority of fontanel-related concerns resolve naturally, there are instances where abnormalities may arise, prompting parents to seek prompt medical attention.

Sunken Fontanel

A sunken fontanel can be an indicator of dehydration. Parents should be vigilant if they notice this, as dehydration can have serious consequences, especially in infants. Ensuring proper hydration is crucial, and consulting a healthcare professional for guidance is recommended.

Bulging Fontanel

Conversely, a bulging fontanel may signal increased intracranial pressure. This could be a result of various underlying issues, such as infections or neurological conditions. Timely medical intervention is essential to identify the cause and implement appropriate treatment.

Delayed Closure

While most fontanels close within the expected timeframe, delayed closure beyond 24 months could indicate a potential problem. This might be a sign of an underlying bone development issue or other health concerns. Pediatricians may conduct thorough examinations and additional tests to determine the cause and appropriate course of action.

Seeking Answers: Fontanel Assessment and Diagnosis

Concerned parents often wonder how healthcare professionals assess fontanels and what diagnostic measures are involved in ensuring the well-being of their little ones.

Physical Examination

A gentle touch during routine check-ups allows healthcare providers to assess the fontanels. They feel for the softness and the gaps between the skull bones, checking for any irregularities.

Ultrasound Imaging

In rare cases where a more in-depth examination is required, ultrasound imaging may be employed to visualize the brain underneath the fontanels. This non-invasive technique provides detailed insights into the internal structures and helps identify any abnormalities.

Additional Tests

If other symptoms or concerns are present, healthcare professionals may recommend additional tests, such as blood tests or imaging studies, to rule out potential underlying health issues.

Navigating Fontanel Concerns: A Parent's Guide

Parenting is a journey filled with joy and occasional worries. When it comes to fontanels, being informed and proactive can make a significant difference.

Observing Normal Changes

Understanding the normal developmental changes associated with fontanels can alleviate unnecessary concerns. As your baby grows and achieves developmental milestones, you can witness the gradual closure of fontanels as part of their natural progression.

Open Communication with Healthcare Providers

Maintaining open communication with your child's healthcare provider is crucial. If you notice any abnormalities or have concerns about fontanels, don't hesitate to bring them up during regular check-ups. Timely discussions can lead to prompt assessments and necessary interventions if required.

Embracing the Journey

While it's natural for parents to worry about their child's well-being, it's essential to embrace the journey of parenthood. Fontanels, with their intriguing softness and subsequent closure, are just one aspect of your baby's remarkable development.

In the next section, we will explore various treatment approaches for fontanel-related concerns and delve into the emotional aspects of parenting, addressing common worries and offering guidance on navigating this fascinating yet challenging journey.

Conclusion: Navigating the Fontanel Mystery with Confidence

In the intricate tapestry of parenthood, understanding the mysteries of fontanels is both a scientific exploration and an emotional journey. As we conclude our exploration into the soft spots on a baby's head, it's crucial to recognize that fontanels, though initially mysterious, are a testament to the intricacies of human development.

Empowering Knowledge

Arming yourself with knowledge about fontanels, from their essential role in childbirth to their gradual closure during infancy, is a powerful tool for parents. It transforms what might be perceived as a mystery into a comprehensible aspect of your baby's growth. The two main types, the anterior at the top and the posterior at the back of the head, serve vital functions in facilitating childbirth and accommodating rapid brain growth.

Red Flags and Vigilance

While most fontanel-related concerns resolve naturally, vigilance is key. Parents should be attuned to signs such as sunken or bulging fontanels, which can signal dehydration or increased intracranial pressure, respectively. Understanding the normal closure timeline and seeking medical attention for delayed closure ensures potential issues are addressed promptly.

Treatment Approaches and Emotional Resilience

Treatment approaches vary, ranging from monitoring and hydration management to, in rare cases, surgical intervention. For parents, acknowledging and normalizing worries is an integral part of the emotional journey. Establishing a robust support system, staying informed, and celebrating each developmental milestone contribute to emotional resilience during this chapter of parenting.

A Continual Learning Experience

As fontanels gradually close, marking the end of this unique stage, the broader journey of parenthood continues. Celebrate the developmental milestones, from the closure of fontanels to your baby's first steps. Maintain open communication with healthcare providers, trusting both your instincts and their expertise. Parenthood is a continual learning experience, and the dedication and love you invest contribute immeasurably to your child's thriving future.

Next Steps

If you're finding this content useful and want to stay in the loop on all things related to children's health, don't hesitate to subscribe to our newsletter. If you have questions or concerns about your child's fontanels or any other pediatric issues, feel free to book an appointment with Dr. Michael Nwaneri. We're here to guide you, no strings attached.