One of the more visible conditions that can arise during labor and delivery is caput succedaneum. This consists of swelling on the scalp of a child, which creates a noticeable lump on their head. Caput succedaneum results from pressure to the head during childbirth. While this is similar to a cephalohematoma, the condition does not involve ruptured blood vessels. By itself, caput succedaneum does not cause brain damage or any other permanent harm. However, in rare cases, complications can arise from it that can become serious.
Caput succedaneum usually occurs during a difficult labor or a delivery process in which doctors use certain assistive devices, such as forceps or vacuum extractors. Caput succedaneum sometimes even develops before childbirth, depending on conditions in the amniotic sac.
Symptoms of Caput Succedaneum
A doctor should be able to diagnose this condition from a simple physical exam. Puffy and soft skin on the scalp generally indicates caput succedaneum, especially if it appears on the area that traveled through the birth canal soonest. Sometimes the puffiness is limited to one side of the head, but it may be on both sides. A child may have some bruising on their scalp, but more significant bruising usually suggests a cephalohematoma instead. Caput succedaneum does not cause permanent harm to the skull.
Is a "Pointed Skull" a Problem?
Some parents feel concerned when they see that the head of their child comes to a mild point after the puffiness subsides. Caused by pressure on bones from the swelling, the pointed shape will resolve on its own in most cases. This is because the bones in infant heads can move more easily than bones in adult heads, since they have not yet fused.
Jaundice From Caput Succedaneum
A doctor usually does not need to order any specific treatment for caput succedaneum. In fact, they should not try to drain the swelling, since this could cause infections. However, caput succedaneum should not be ignored entirely because it increases the risk of jaundice in a newborn. Any type of bruising and swelling can contribute to jaundice.
Like caput succedaneum, jaundice by itself does not cause major problems. This condition involves excessive amounts of bilirubin, which causes a yellowish tone in the skin and eyes. Jaundice usually resolves on its own, but it should be monitored. If jaundice does not resolve on its own and is not properly addressed by a doctor, it may lead to a rare condition called kernicterus, which can cause brain damage and even death.
Compensation for Caput Succedaneum Complications
Most children do not experience any long-term consequences of caput succedaneum. Their scalp should return to a normal appearance soon after the swelling subsides. However, a doctor should monitor the condition due to the risk of jaundice and subsequent kernicterus. If a doctor fails to account for this risk, a child might suffer permanent harm, and their family might sustain a huge financial blow.
In these rare but devastating situations, parents might consider bringing a medical malpractice lawsuit against the doctor who failed to properly monitor their child and respond to their worsening condition. If they can show that the doctor was at fault, they may be able to recover compensation for the past, present, and future costs of caring for the child.
Statutes of Limitations
Parents should act quickly in asserting their legal rights. This is because states impose various statutes of limitations on birth injury cases. Failing to bring a case within the applicable statute of limitations probably will result in its dismissal, even if it is substantively strong.
Parents should not be concerned about the cost of consulting or hiring a lawyer. Most birth injury attorneys offer free consultations at which they can discuss the facts of a case with a potential client. If a family decides to retain them, they will collect their fees as a percentage of any eventual compensation award.