Who doesn’t love an adorable, squishy, soft newborn baby’s head? There is something about the head of a baby that has just entered the world. Everyone wants a touch or smell of that melon shaped, fuzzy haired part of the body. Of course, that is after the baby has been washed and cleaned!
The head is often noticed as the biggest part of a newborn’s body, which is perhaps why it gets all the attention. Plus the fact it is home to the gorgeous eyes, cute button nose, and little lips that are learning to make an adorable smile. No wonder the head grabs everyone’s attention, from family and friends to total strangers in the shopping mall who just wants to ooh and ahh at a newborn.
However, there are many other fascinating things about the newborn baby’s head. This part of the body isn’t all fun and games. It has gone through a lot to get to where it is today. The head is (in most cases) the first part of the enter the world, meaning it bears the brunt of the birthing process. Find out the good, the bad, and the ugly about a newborn baby’s head with these bizarre facts.
15 It Gets Mushed Up By The Birthing Canal
Since the head is what makes it out first, it is entirely shaped by the birthing canal. Now, the birthing canal is literally the part of the female body that is normally thin and compact. During birth, this part of the body stretches like it’s no one’s business to accommodate that baby coming out. The birthing canal consists of the dilated cervix and a stretched out pelvis. These are not normally dilated or stretched, so already weird things are going on.
As the baby pushes out through this part of the female anatomy, the head is literally shaped by the shape of it. This is why sometimes the baby’s head can appear a little mushed up or uneven. It is entirely due to the shape of mom’s body and how this has contorted to allow birth to happen. Good thing no heads are ever the same, so every baby can afford to be born with a ‘unique’ shape to their head!
14 It Comes Out Covered In Hair
It isn’t too surprising that most babies come out into the world with a full head of hair. What is a bit more bizarre is that this hair isn’t really meant to be there. This is why it won’t stick around for too long. Much of the hair that a baby is born with is called the lanugo. This hair develops while the baby is in utero, and in many cases most of the lanugo will fall out in the womb by around 32 weeks.
However, many babies are born with it on their head. This peach fuzz is temporary and is normally dark in color. It will fall off (or totally shed, however you want to look at it) by around 3 months after birth. From here on, the hair that you see on the baby’s head is made up of the hair follicles that are going to hang around for the rest of its life.
13 You Can Touch The Soft Spot
Babies are born with a soft spot on their head. This soft spot is physical and visible, unlike the metaphorical soft spot they mould on new mom’s heart just seconds after the birthing process. After birth, the doctors will examine the soft spot on the baby. In fact, there are normally two or more soft spots.
Doctors will continue examining these soft spots as the skull bones fuse together over the first two to four months after birth. This is super important to make sure the head positioning is coming together nicely. Sometimes, one side of the head might look flatter than the other. Doctors can monitor and rectify this before the fusing of all the head bones have set in place.
12 It's 25% Of Baby's Body Weight
So like we said earlier, many people do notice that newborn babies have large heads. In fact, in the first month or so after being born, the head can appear to be disproportionately large. This isn’t a trick of the light or the eyes perceiving things a little off. Babies do just have really big heads. In fact, babies' heads make up ¼ or 25% of the entire body weight.
This is why it is super important for the head of a newborn baby to be really well supported. If that end of the body isn’t getting enough support when being held, things are going to go askew in other places. This is also why newborn babies can’t support their head on their own. Those neck muscles aren’t up to propping up that much of the body weight. The head demands attention, on its size and weight alone!
11 There Is A Big Brain In There
Babies are born with a crazy amount of brain cells. In fact, at birth, a baby’s brain contains almost 100 million neurons. This means that there are nearly as many nerve cell endings as there are stars in the Milky Way. That is the kind of brain size we are talking about. This is the most amount of neurons the human brain will ever have and it all starts coming together just three weeks after conception.
One of the reasons the baby’s head is so big at birth is because the head needs to protect this large brain that has developed. It is one of the largest organs at birth, so it needs a big protective covering around it. This just happens to be the head. If this isn’t enough reason to protect and support the head after a baby is born, not much else is!
10 They Turn To The Right More Than The Left
For whatever reason, babies prefer turning to the right side than the left. This is a reflex that has been around in newborns for a really long time so it must have come about somewhere on the evolutionary pathway of humans. Most probably, this is because it makes it instinctively easier for breastfeeding.
Babies become familiar with the smell of their mom’s diet from inside the womb, meaning they are predisposed to certain scents surrounding her. This includes the smells and scents that make up the breast milk. Therefore, when cradling a baby, or holding them, or even just in the same room as them, they will instinctively turn towards the smell of breast milk that attracts them. This just happened to be on their right side enough for it to become a reflex!
9 There Is A Protein Called ‘Noggin’ In There
Oftentimes, the head of a newborn is referred to as a ‘noggin’ or something similar to this. This colloquial name for a head actually has some scientific reasoning behind it. There are many proteins that are making their way around the newborn baby’s head after birth, making sure that the head is up to scratch and things are going well outside the womb.
One of the proteins was given the somewhat comical name of ‘noggin’. This protein is actually really important and has an interesting role to play. It is a protein that is really important in the development of nerve tissues, muscles, and bones in the baby’s body. It also keeps the skull from fusing in the first few months. So the noggin is responsible for the soft spot on the baby’s head. It will allow the fusing to happen when the time is just right.
8 There's An Average Circumference
The shape and size of a newborn baby’s head does vary with each individual, as does just about everything else about a baby! However, the average size circumference size of a baby’s head is around 13.8 inches. This does make up around a quarter of the baby’s entire body weight, which is super disproportionate and would look ridiculous on an adult.
As for the shape of the head, this varies more than the circumference size does. This is because the head is moulded more by the journey through the birthing canal than by biological standards. This is why some babies come out with a rounded head, some a more pointed head, and some can even be a little flat looking. All these even out after the birthing journey, of course.
7 It Comes With A Skin Condition
In the first moments after birth, things aren’t as glamorous and adorable as the newborn photo shoots make out to be. Babies come out covered in some weird stuff, including the vernix and the lanugo. From sticky and furry substances, things are weird. The head also has its own weird thing at birth. In fact, the head comes out into the world with a skin condition.
This skin condition is called seborrheic dermatitis. It looks pretty much like greasy flakes on the top of the hand (this can’t be sugar coated!). The reason this occurs, not in every single birthing case, but commonly enough, is because of maternal hormones. That’s right - hormones mess with the baby’s skin as well as mom’s. No one is safe from these devilish pregnancy hormones, it turns out!
6 Sleeping On The Back Flattens It
Since the baby is born with a malleable and unfused head, there are many things that influence how the shape will mould. For instance, having the baby sleep on their back actually flattens the head while it is still malleable with the soft spot fontanelles. Of course, this doesn’t make it totally flat like a pancake. It just influences the shape of the back of the head.
To avoid too much flattening on one area, it is recommended to change the baby’s position regularly. For instance, if the baby is sleeping on their back, try to encourage them to be on their side when they are awake. Or you can encourage some front sleeping or tummy time when awake. This does need to be monitored so the head moves from side to side. Staying on one side for a prolonged period can also flatten that area!
5 There Are Actually Two Soft Spots
The precious head of a newborn baby has two soft spots. These are called the fontanels. They are there for good reasons, even though are weird and worrisome for first time parents. The purpose of these soft spots is to help the infant’s skull to shift into the right position before it fuses and sets in place. They also allow the baby’s brain to grow, which is rapid growth in the first few years.
Obviously, these soft spots want to be handled with delicacy and care, since they are very soft. Therefore, it is important to know just where they are. The first soft spot is on the top of the baby’s head. This is a larger one, in the shape of a diamond. It starts to fuse by around 18 months. The second spot is less noticeable and smaller, on the back of the head.
4 Neck Control Evens Out It's Shape
Any ‘flattening’ concerns around the head aren’t too much to worry about. While the sleeping position or too much pressure on one side can flatten out the head somewhat, it is typically temporary. The head is capable of moulding its position as the skull fuses together. If there are major concerns, doctors will recommend a helmet to mould the head after the first year.
However, the head shape does come together nicely in the majority of instances. This is because the human body really does know what it is doing. As babies learn to control their neck muscles, this also impacts on the shape of the head and evens things out. Babies gain neck muscle control after around 3 or 4 months. This is when their body weight starts to grow so the head isn’t as disproportionately huge.
3 Mom’s Pelvis Shapes It
Mothers and babies are connected in many ways and mom has more influence on the baby than she may realise. In fact, mom’s body shape literally shapes the baby’s physical features, starting with the head. This is the case for babies born vaginally. Making their way through the birthing canal head first really does impact how the head shape will be.
Basically, mom’s pelvis is the end point of the birthing canal. The pelvis muscles and ligaments stretch to accommodate the growing uterus and support the contractions that get the birthing process started. Therefore, if mom has a really narrow pelvis that has a limited stretching capacity, bubs is going to have a slightly pointed head. However, if mom has a wide pelvis and hip bones to match, the stretch is easier and the baby has more room to push out, meaning the head will be rounder. Neither is better or worse, is all just depends on body type.
2 It's Rounder For C-Section Babies
So it is the birthing canal journey that dictates what the shape of the newborn baby’s head will be. However, not all babies have to make their journey through the birthing canal. Whether elective or emergency, C-sections are an alternative form of birth.
In a C-section, the baby is surgically removed from mom’s uterus, meaning no birthing canal is needed. Basically, the baby only has to make it to the top of the birthing canal for the C-section to get underway. This means that the head doesn’t have to push out through the pelvis and cervix. Therefore, bubs' head is going to come out of the womb round as it was in utero. C-sections babies do have rounder shaped heads than vaginally born ones. Here is one to compare with your friend’s baby and your own!
1 The Soft Spots Let The Brain Grow
As we discussed earlier, there are two soft spots on the baby’s head. These are called the fontanelles and they serve very important purposes. Basically, the baby’s head comes out of the uterus in a very malleable form. This is part of the reason why it influenced and shaped by the journey out of the birthing canal.
The head stays in this malleable form for quite a while. Ultimately, the head doesn’t need to be entirely solid for the first year. This is because there is still considerable growth going on, both internally and externally. The baby’s head is still forming and fusing on the outside, and it needs room to change to accommodate the brain. In the first year after the birth, the baby’s brain grows a lot. All the new experiences, smells, and sights makes the neurons change and grow. The head can’t fuse until bubs has learned enough in that first year!
Sources: Mayoclinic.org, Whattoexpect.com, Parents.com, Motherandbaby.co.uk, Momjunction.com