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Why Do Babies Have Soft Spots & When Are They Cause For Concern?

When encountering babies in the wild, my mother would sometimes offers uncensored commentary on how they, “aren’t done cooking yet.” She would usually follow up this exclamation with some comment about how said baby needed more time in the oven before they were done. (The exact difference between “done” and “undone” babies was never fully explained.) This statement came to mind when I started looking into the why babies have soft spots. You know what I’m talking about — the soft spot around the front and back of baby’s skull that you notice when patting their head. Well, don’t panic – these spots are completely normal and totally temporary.

And although there are valid and scientific reasons for these spots, my mother’s reasoning – the baby is not done yet – sort of holds water. They are just a part of development as the skull grows to maturity. With this in mind, here’s a quick rundown of the reasons your baby has soft spots, their purpose, and when these spots might signify signs for concern. In general, these spots are just a normal, if somewhat quirky, aspect of human development. Read on to learn more about the fascinating truth behind these soft spots on your baby’s head.

What Are Soft Spots?

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According to the Mayo Clinic, the soft spots on your baby’s skull are called fontanels, and they are formed where the skull bones meet. Because your baby’s skull does not fuse into a solid piece of bone until around your child’s second birthday, the American Academy of Pediatrics notes that these fontanels are a normal part of your baby’s development.

What Purpose Do Soft Spots Serve?

Joshua Rappeneker/Flickr

So why isn’t your baby’s skull fully formed at birth? Well, as New York Times notes, a malleable skull makes it easier for the baby to pass through the birth canal and it also allows for the baby’s rapid brain growth during his first year. Furthermore, the spots are safe for you to touch, according to the Mayo Clinic, so you don’t have to worry about brushing against them.  

What Are Signs of Concern?

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In a healthy baby, the fontanelles are firm and may curve slightly inward, according to the New York Times. And while the fontanelles may stand out when your baby is upset, they should return to normal once your baby is relaxed again.

If your baby’s soft spots bulge out all the time, it may be a sign of encephalitis, which is an inflammation of the brain, according to the Mayo Clinic. And following information from the New York Times, swollen fontanelles may also indicate hydrocephalus (fluid buildup in the skull) or meningitis (infections of membranes over the brain). In general, if your baby’s fontanelles are bulging, you may want to visit your healthcare physician for a checkup.