Caput Succedaneum

Caput succedaneum is medical term describing swelling that occurs to a baby’s scalp shortly after delivery. During childbirth, especially during head-first deliveries, pressure exerted on a baby’s head can damage the scalp, leading to caput succedanuem as well as other birth injuries. Although it may cause slight discomfort the baby, caput succedaneum is not a life-threatening condition in itself, but it may lead to additional health issues, such as jaundice.

Causes and Risk Factors of Caput Succedaneum

In most instances, caput succedaneum occurs after a long, difficult delivery, usually after the membranes break and the amniotic sac is no longer supporting the baby’s head. Using a vacuum extraction tool or forceps during delivery also increases the chances, especially if the physician applies too much force or uses the tools incorrectly.

However, in some cases, caput succedaneum occurs when the membranes rupture too soon, even as early as 31 weeks gestation. An ultrasound can usually detect when membranes are ruptured early. When the membranes rupture while in the infant is still in utero, the scalp may start to swell as there is no cushioning for the infant’s head.

Symptoms of Caput Succedaneum

  • Puffiness under the skin of the scalp (the most prominent symptom)
  • Bruising and/or color changes to the scalp
  • Molding increase on the head
  • Scalp swelling across the infant’s midline and suture lines

Tests and Diagnosis

No formal testing is usually needed or performed to diagnose caput succedaneum. Instead, a physician will perform a physical examination and assess the symptoms to make a formal diagnosis.

Caput Succedaneum Treatment

The condition almost always resolves itself within a few days. No treatment is usually necessary. In fact, attempting to drain the scalp area may lead to infections that will exacerbate the condition. However, since the brusing caused by caput succedaneum may break down into the bilirubin, there is a heightened risk of the baby developing jaundice. Jaundice, if treated, typically won’t pose any problems. Yet, if left undiagnosed and untreated, may lead to severe medical issues, including brain damage and in severe cases, infant death.


If the infant develops jaundice that’s treated immediately, there is usually no long-term problems associated with caput succedaneum as the baby’s scalp begins to heal within a dew days and the head returns to its normal size.  However, as previously mentioned, untreated jaundice can lead to several long-term complications, including Kernicterus, a form of brain damage that can be marked by:

  • Athetoid cerebral palsy
  • Hearing loss
  • Poor tooth enamel development
  • Permanent upward gaze

Additional Tips to Remember

Many parents are often scared and confused at the appearance of an infant with caput succedaneum. The head may take on an abnormally large appearance, bulging around the affected scalp area. Keep in mind that this is a normal appearance for babies with this type of condition, and since it generally occurs shortly after birth, your physician should be able to respond immediately in order to detect any other problems. The baby’s head will resume its normal shape after the swelling goes down.