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What Is Cephalohematoma?

A cephalohematoma is a collection of blood underneath the scalp. It is characterized by soft swelling that feels squishy to the touch, like a small water sac resting on top of the head. Babies with a cephalohematoma will have a typical oval or round scull with a swelling mass protruding from the point where the blood collected.

Cephalohematomas occur when the tiny veins that supply nutrients to the tissue surrounding the bones burst. It is a complication of childbirth that results from the head being forced through the birth canal. As the head is pulled or pushed through the canal, the cervix grips the heads, creating pressure on the veins. The process is painless, but it does leave the baby looking slightly deformed until the cephalohematoma heals.

Cephalohematomas are most common in deliveries assisted by forceps or vacuums. In part, this is related to pulling the larger head through the birth canal, which is why these devices are necessary. Many times, however, cephalohematomas are a result of a physician using the assisted laboring devices incorrectly, or using them too aggressively and failing to prevent the pressure on the veins.

Caring for a Cephalohematoma

Babies born with a cephalohematoma generally have no long-term complications. The trapped blood will eventually break down and the swelling subside. During the healing period, you may notice a hard ridge around the swelling site. This is from the calcium in the blood and it will go away on its own. The entire healing period lasts a few months. No traces of the cephalohematoma will remain after it is completely healed.

It is recommended that a cephalohematoma heal on its own. Needles used to drain the blood can cause serious infection.

Cephalohematoma vs. Caput Succedaneum

Cephalohematomas are often confused with caput succedaneum because they have the similar characteristic of swelling of the scalp. The difference is that caput succedaneum is a natural result of the head moving through the birth canal. The pressure of the vagina wall causes a large swelling mass at the part of the head that was presented first during delivery. The swelling usually lasts only a couple of days, at most. Cephalohematomas are more than swelling because they are actually caused by veins that burst during the birthing process. The swelling site is smaller, more defined, and feels like a sac of water under the skin. This swelling can last a few months while the trapped blood is broken down and absorbed back into the body.

The Birth Injury Team is a subsidiary of Silvers, Langsam & Weitzman, P.C., made up of experienced attorneys and medical professionals. Our lawyers have more than 100 years of combined experience handling birth injury cases. We are dedicated to helping parents understand their child's condition and guiding them through the process of securing the care and support they need. Located in Philadelphia, we serve clients across the United States.


Located in Philadelphia, Silvers, Langsam & Weitzman, P.C., home of MyPhillyLawyer, serves clients in Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania, and throughout the United States.

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