A cephalohematoma is a swollen, fluid-filled lump on a newborn baby's scalp -- a large bruise. It's caused by trauma to the baby's head during birth, from contact with the mother's pubic bone or the use of forcible extraction methods like forceps or vacuum extraction. Because of the trauma, blood vessels break and blood pools in the area under the skin but over the skull. The area looks like a small lake under the scalp, and varies from mushy to quite firm, depending on how much blood has collected. In most cases, it should go away in two weeks to three months. But if there's a skull fracture underneath or the bleeding is extensive, the baby is at risk for serious or even life-threatening complications.
Risk factors for a cephalohematoma include:
- Vacuum extraction or, less commonly, forceps delivery
- A small mother, a large baby or a baby with a large head
- First pregnancy for the mother
Unless there are complications, doctors treat a baby's cephalohematoma by leaving it alone. It's possible to drain it, but even with the most sterile of needles, it's believed to put the baby at too high a risk of infection. On their own, blood cells trapped in the cephalohematoma will break down and be reabsorbed by the baby's body, allowing the swelling and redness to go down. Near the end of this process, there may be hardened spots in the area, especially around the edges, because of calcium deposits. This should also be reabsorbed, and there should be no signs of the injury at all in a few months.
The most common complication of a cephalohematoma is jaundice (hyperbilirubinemia), in which the whites of the baby's eyes (and the skin, on pale-skinned babies) appear yellow. This happens because the cephalohematoma has created a lot of a yellow substance called bilirubin, a component of blood that the liver normally removes from the blood. Because a baby's liver is just starting to function after birth, it can take a few days to clear out the extra bilirubin. Doctors should test jaundiced newborns for other underlying problems and closely monitor their health, because severe jaundice can lead to deafness, cerebral palsy or other brain damage.
Other complications of cephalohematoma include:
- Anemia (blood loss and iron deficiency)
- Infections, including sepsis, osteomyelitis and meningitis
- Skull fracture (especially likely if the cephalohematoma crosses the baby's floating skull plates)
Very occasionally, a baby can be misdiagnosed with a cephalohematoma when he or she really has a much more serious condition called a leptomeningeal cyst. This is complication of a skull fracture in which part of the brain's lining (the dura) is caught between skull plates, eroding the skull. A leptomeningeal cyst is very rare, but it should be fixed immediately with surgery because it can lead to mental retardation, seizures and excess pressure on the brain.
A cephalohematoma looks frightening on a tiny newborn baby, but it's usually harmless. Unfortunately, sometimes it's a precursor to or a sign of a serious underlying injury that needs immediate attention. When that's the case, doctors must move quickly to protect the baby from death or permanent, irreversible brain damage. If they miss the diagnosis, or fail to move quickly enough to help, the baby may start life with a serious disability because of medical malpractice. The resulting physical, emotional and financial strain on the child and the family can be enormous.
If you believe your child is the victim of this type of bad medical decision-making that led to a birth injury, you have the right to hold the negligent parties responsible with a New York birth injury lawsuit. Wingate, Russotti, Shapiro & Halperin, LLP can help. We are an aggressive, experienced New York law firm that specializes in birth injury and medical malpractice cases. Thanks to decades of experience, we have the expertise to handle all the legal and medical complexities of birth injury claims -- and we have the record to prove it. We're proud to say that we've won tens of millions of dollars for seriously injured babies and their families, which can help them get the medical treatment they need, support themselves financially and move on.
If you or someone you love is a victim of a cephalohematoma-related birth injury, contact a NY lawyer at Wingate, Russotti, Shapiro & Halperin, LLP today at (212) 986-7353 for a free consultation on your case.
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