After nine long months, you’re ready to meet your baby. Be warned: you might be meeting your very own ‘cone head’ very soon.
Many parents are more than a little surprised when their baby is born, and sporting an impressively elongated head.
What Happens To Your Baby’s Head During Birth?
Recently, birth photographer Kayla Reeder was fortunate enough to capture some incredible images which demonstrate what happens to a baby’s head during labour and birth.
The baby was descending with his head a little sideways and this caused intense swelling.
The photographs illustrate how amazing the human body is; both a mother’s as she births, and a baby’s as he comes into the world.
Your Baby’s Head
So that a baby can actually fit through the birth canal, the head must be the right size, and flexible enough, to pass through.
Your baby’s skull has bones that are designed to move around. These skull bones look like puzzle pieces; they fit together but aren’t actually joined.
This skull flexibility allows human beings to have incredibly rapid brain growth – not just in the uterus, but also after birth. In the first two years of a child’s life, the skull grows about 40%.
It also allows babies to be born when they are still very immature. Of all the species on the planet, a human baby is the only one to be born completely dependent on a parent because of brain immaturity.
What Happens Before Labour?
In the weeks before labour actually begins, your body, and your baby, start to get ready for birth.
Most babies have assumed a head down position by 36 weeks, with the back of the head slightly towards the front of your tummy (anterior position).
This is usually the ‘easiest’ position for birth, as your baby fits snugly into the curve of your pelvis. At some stage during the last weeks of pregnancy your baby’s head will settle lower into the pelvis. This is known as engagement – when the widest part of the head has settled into the pelvic brim.
In this position, the top part of your baby’s head is able to place even pressure onto your cervix. Imagine the shape of an inflated balloon close to the neck. Your baby’s head might begin to mould to fit the funnel shape close to the bottom of the uterus.
Those skull bones are now hanging upside down, low in your pelvis; this means they have no option but to mould to fit their surroundings. This process is also preparation for the movement through the birth canal.
What Happens During Labour?
In the first active stage of labour, the contractions you experience are working to thin and dilate the cervix. The top of your uterus is contracting onto your baby’s bottom, pushing her downwards onto the dilating cervix.
The pressure of the uterus’ contractions, and being pushed down onto the cervix, cause your baby to curl and tuck her chin in to her chest. In this position, she can rotate to fit through the pelvis. The bones in her head might need to shift to allow this to happen.
Once the cervix is completely open, the uterus will begin strong expulsion contractions. These are intended to move the baby through the dilated cervix, into the birth canal, and out into the world.
The vagina is able to stretch to accommodate your baby’s head, but it’s still a squeeze. This is when your baby’s mobile skull bones really come into play. They shift and move to allow the head to pass through easily. This can cause an elongated head shape, often known as a cone head.
Do C-Section Babies Have Moulding?
Babies who are born via c-section might have already settled into their mother’s pelvis early enough to have some head moulding.
If the c-section wasn’t planned, and the mother has already experienced labour, then it’s just as likely the baby will have moulding.
How Long Does It Last?
Most head moulding will only last a few days after birth. Amazingly, a baby’s head will begin to round itself out, even within a few hours of birth. Within the first week of life, your baby’s head should be the standard round shape, with soft spots at the front and back; these are called fontanelles.
Occasionally a baby will have what’s known as a caput. This is when swelling occurs, after prolonged pressure on the baby’s head from the cervix or birth canal. It is much more likely to happen if the amniotic sac is ruptured before labour begins, or very early in labour.
A caput is fluid and bruising, and will usually disappear within a few days after birth. You might notice your baby’s head is more pointed underneath the caput; this is the skull moulding, and it will also be resolved after a short time.
Does It Hurt My Baby?
Your baby’s head is designed to be flexible during labour, so it’s not likely to cause any pain. We don’t know exactly what sensations babies experience when they are being born, but most likely they feel a lot of squeezing and pressure.
Some babies might be irritable and fussy if they have experienced a prolonged labour, as the pressure on the head might have caused a headache. Calm, quiet surroundings, plenty of skin to skin and gentle massage might help to comfort your baby while her head shape is resolved.