Newborn Cephalohematoma Symptoms

Fact-Checked and Medically Reviewed by:
Katie Lavender, RN Registered Nurse
Quick Answer

Newborns are sometimes born with a cephalohematoma, a buildup of ruptured small blood vessels (hemorrhage) under the scalp. It is often the result of difficult labor. Many cases of newborn cephalohematoma quickly resolve and do not need extensive treatment. However, the pooling of blood can put pressure on the newborn's brain, which can cause severe complications. Learn more about newborn cephalohematoma symptoms now.

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What Is Cephalohematoma in Newborn Babies?

A doctor holds a baby's head to check for newborn cephalohematoma symptoms.

Cephalohematoma in newborn babies is characterized by a pooling of blood underneath the skin of an infant’s skull due to ruptured blood vessels during childbirth.

This usually happens due to a difficult delivery or the use of assistive tools like forceps or vacuum extractors.

The condition is identified by a soft, bulging bump on the baby’s head, which may appear a few hours or days after birth. While it can look concerning, newborn cephalohematoma symptoms usually resolve on their own over weeks to months as the body reabsorbs the blood.

If your baby has newborn cephalohematoma symptoms that you are concerned about, talk with their pediatrician without delay.

What Are the Symptoms of Newborn Cephalohematoma?

There are various newborn cephalohematoma symptoms, including larger than average head size, soft spots on the head, seizures, and swelling of the head.

Here are some of the more common newborn cephalohematoma symptoms.

1. Larger Than Average Head Size

Children with newborn cephalohematoma often have heads that appear larger than average. This is because cephalohematoma causes blood to gather around the child’s ruptured or damaged blood vessels, increasing the size of the head.

2. Seizures

Severe newborn cephalohematomas can cause brain injury, which can lead to seizures.

A seizure is a physical change in behavior due to abnormal electrical activity in the brain. It can cause your child to shake uncontrollably, with their muscles relaxing and contracting repeatedly.

3. Swelling of the Head

Babies with newborn cephalohematoma may have swollen heads due to the buildup of blood around their damaged blood vessels. The swelling is usually located at the back of the head and does not cross the bony plates in a baby’s skull that allow for growth (suture lines). Swelling can take months to go away.

4. Vomiting or Trouble Feeding

Children with newborn cephalohematoma may have trouble feeding or vomiting, especially if they have brain damage. Brain damage can make it difficult for babies to move their bodies, swallow, and process food.

5. High-Pitched Crying

Children with newborn cephalohematoma and neurological impairment may make high-pitched cries that sound like pain cries. Research suggests that children with brain damage are more fussy due to increased sensitivity to stimuli.

6. Extreme Fatigue

A complication in babies with newborn cephalohematoma is that they may be extremely tired. They may sleep most of the day and be lethargic when awake.

If you have questions about newborn cephalohematoma symptoms, our labor and delivery nurses may be able to help.

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Newborn Cephalohematoma vs. Caput Succedaneum

Newborn cephalohematoma symptoms are often similar to the symptoms of caput succedaneum (a birth injury causing swelling in the scalp). Both conditions involve swelling and unusual bumps on the newborn’s head.

Learn about the main differences between these two birth injuries in the chart below.

CephalohematomaCaput succedaneum
ConditionBleeding under the scalpScalp swelling due to pressure
LocationBack of the head, not crossing suture linesTop of the scalp, can cross suture lines
CharacteristicsFeels soft until it calcifies and gets harder and denserSpongy-feeling scalp
Average healing timeMay take monthsSwelling goes down soon after birth

When Will Newborn Cephalohematoma Symptoms Appear?

When newborn cephalohematoma symptoms appear depends on the type of cephalohematoma.

The two types of newborn cephalohematomas are:
  • Acute infant hematoma: Newborn cephalohematoma symptoms may show shortly or immediately after birth.
  • Chronic infant hematoma: Newborn cephalohematoma symptoms may not appear until days or weeks after birth.

Causes and Risk Factors for Infant Cephalohematoma

One of the main causes of newborn cephalohematoma is pressure on an infant’s head during a difficult vaginal delivery.

The pressure can be the result of the size of the baby’s head relative to the birth canal or the mother’s pelvic bone.

It can also be a complication from vacuum extractors, an assisted delivery tool used in vaginal deliveries.

The following factors increase the risk of newborn cephalohematoma:
  • Breech (feet-first) birth
  • Difficult or prolonged vaginal delivery
  • Epidural pain relief during childbirth
  • Fetal macrosomia (larger-than-average baby, weighing over 8 pounds, 13 ounces)
  • Multiple births (twins, triplets, and more)
  • Preterm birth
  • Vaginal delivery using assistive tools, especially vacuum extractors

What to Do if Your Child Has Newborn Cephalohematoma Symptoms

A cephalohematoma can lead to serious conditions such as neonatal infections and jaundice, a condition caused by bilirubin buildup characterized by yellowish skin and whites of the eyes.

Therefore, it is very important to monitor your child for newborn cephalohematoma symptoms and report any concerns to your child’s doctor without delay.

If doctors fail to diagnose and treat jaundice in time, babies may develop kernicterus, a type of brain damage. Kernicterus can lead to serious lifelong problems, such as hearing loss and dyskinetic cerebral palsy.

Newborn cephalohematoma can also cause injury to a baby’s fragile skull.

Did you know

About 25% of babies with newborn cephalohematoma symptoms develop skull fractures.

Here’s what you should do if you suspect your child has a cephalohematoma.

1. Tell Your Child’s Pediatrician

First, contact your child’s pediatrician immediately. Although newborn cephalohematoma symptoms usually resolve on their own, there is a chance that they can cause brain damage if not diagnosed or treated in time.

2. Seek Diagnostic Tests

Your pediatrician may decide to order diagnostic tests to determine whether your child has a cephalohematoma.

Diagnostic tests to evaluate newborn cephalohematoma symptoms may include:
  • Physical examinations allow doctors to see whether your child’s head is expanding or growing more than normal. They will look for any masses on the newborn’s head.
  • Blood tests can show your baby’s red blood cell count. Results can reveal whether your child has a cephalohematoma. If there is bleeding, the red blood cell count will decrease.
  • Imaging scans like computerized tomography (CT), X-rays, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can help doctors diagnose and measure the size of the cephalohematoma.

3. Find the Right Treatment

If your child’s newborn cephalohematoma symptoms are confirmed by a diagnosis, work closely with their doctor to get your baby prompt and proper treatment.

The treatment plan for newborn cephalohematoma symptoms depends on the severity:
  • Mild cases: Doctors may recommend rest since a mild cephalohematoma can clear up on its own. In most cases, the center part of the hematoma (blood-filled) lump dissolves before the outer edges, resulting in a “crater-like” look.
  • Severe cases: More severe cases may require surgery to remove blood clots, drain excess blood, and fix bleeding veins.

If your child’s cephalohematoma has caused jaundice, doctors can use phototherapy. Also known as light therapy, phototherapy uses bright, ultraviolet (UV) lights on your child’s skin to treat jaundice.

Babies with cephalohematoma-induced anemia can be treated with blood transfusions.

The earlier your child is diagnosed and treated, the more likely they are to make a full recovery.

Get Legal Help for a Newborn Cephalohematoma

If you believe that your child’s cephalohematoma was caused by medical negligence, you may be eligible to file a birth injury lawsuit to seek compensation for treatment.

Call the compassionate Patient Advocates at the Birth Injury Justice Center at (800) 914-1562 to learn more about your options. You can also get a free case review now to find out how we may be able to help.

Newborn Cephalohematoma Symptoms FAQs

What are the warning signs of cephalohematoma in newborns?

The warning signs of cephalohematoma depend on the severity and type of cephalohematoma.

Here are some symptoms of newborn cephalohematoma complications:

  • Extreme fatigue
  • High-pitched crying
  • Larger-than-average head size
  • Red bump on the baby’s scalp
  • Seizures
  • Soft spots on the head
  • Vomiting and feeding difficulties

What effects does a cephalohematoma have on a baby?

If untreated, your baby may experience the following cephalohematoma complications:

  • Anemia: A cephalohematoma can take blood away from the baby’s circulatory system, leading to a low red blood cell count (anemia).
  • Calcifications: Cephalohematomas that last more than five weeks may create calcifications (hardened bone deposits) around the bump. This can affect skull formation.
  • Infections: On rare occasions, a hematoma may lead to life-threatening sepsis (full body response to an infection), cellulitis (bacterial infection), or osteomyelitis (bone infection).
  • Jaundice: When a baby’s body absorbs blood from the cephalohematoma, bilirubin levels can rise, leading to jaundice.

How is cephalohematoma treated in newborns?

Cephalohematoma in newborns usually resolves on its own over weeks or months and typically doesn’t require treatment.

Doctors will monitor the condition for complications like jaundice, anemia, or infection. In rare cases, surgery might be necessary to remove calcification.

How much time does cephalohematoma take to heal in a newborn?

You can expect the cephalohematoma bump to disappear in several weeks. Some cephalohematomas require several months to heal completely.

It’s always best to talk to your child’s doctor if they have newborn cephalohematoma symptoms. If the doctor determines that the bump is taking too long to heal, they may drain the pooled blood.

Birth Injury Support Team
Reviewed by:Katie Lavender, RN

Registered Nurse

  • Fact-Checked
  • Editor

Katie Lavender has over 8 years of experience as a Registered Nurse in postpartum mother/baby care. With hands-on experience in Labor and Delivery and a role as a Community Educator for newborn care, Katie is a staunch advocate for patient rights and education. As a Medical Reviewer, she is committed to ensuring accurate and trustworthy patient information.

The Birth Injury Justice Center was founded in 2003 by a team of legal professionals to educate and empower victims and families affected by birth injuries. Our team is devoted to providing you with the best resources and legal information for all types of birth injuries.

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