How many bones are in a child during birth?

At birth, a child has around 270 bones. This number is significantly higher than the 206 bones that adults have. The reason for this difference is that babies are born with extra bones that fuse together as they grow. Understanding how many bones a baby has at birth and why the number changes can provide interesting insights into skeletal development.

How Many Bones Does a Baby Have at Birth?

A newborn baby has approximately 270 bones at birth. This includes:

  • 46 bones in the vertebral column (backbone)
  • 26 bones in each hand
  • 26 bones in each foot
  • 8 bones in each wrist
  • 8 bones in each ankle
  • 2 bones in each arm
  • 2 bones in each leg
  • 1 bone in each shoulder
  • 2 hip bones
  • 1 breastbone
  • 22 ribs (12 pairs)
  • 8 bones in the skull
  • 14 facial bones
  • 6 tiny bones in each ear

The total number comes to around 270 bones at birth. However, the exact number can vary slightly from baby to baby.

Why Do Babies Have More Bones Than Adults?

Babies have more bones than adults because many of their bones are still in separate pieces at birth. These extra bones are called primary ossification centers. They allow a great deal of flexibility as the baby grows rapidly in the womb.

After birth, many of the primary ossification centers will fuse together to form the 206 bones that adults have. This fusion of bones is a process called ossification. It greatly reduces skeletal flexibility as the child ages.

Here are some examples of the primary ossification centers that will fuse in a developing child:

  • The skull starts out as 8 different bones that will fuse into the 22 bones that make up the adult skull
  • Each half of the pelvis is 3 separate bones at birth that will fuse into each hip bone
  • The breast bone is made up of 3 bones that will fuse into one
  • Each vertebra in the spine starts out as 3 individual segments that fuse

Overall, a newborn baby will have around 64 more bones than an adult. The fusing process reduces the 270 separate bones at birth down to 206 bones by the time a child reaches adulthood.

When Does Bone Fusion Occur in a Growing Child?

Most of the fusion of primary ossification centers occurs during the first five years of life, but the process is not fully complete until late adolescence.

Here is an overview of the timeline for bone fusion:

  • Skull bones: fuse together to form a solid bone by 1-2 years of age
  • Hip bones: completely fused by age 4
  • Breastbone: pieces fuse by age 5
  • Vertebrae: fusion of all the small segments complete by age 5
  • Hand and wrist bones: carpal bones fuse by late adolescence
  • Foot and ankle bones: tarsal bones fuse by late adolescence

The later fusing bones are smaller bones found in the hands, wrists, feet, and ankles. These areas retain greater flexibility longer to accommodate fine motor skills and dexterity that continue developing throughout childhood.

While most bones have fused completely by age 18, fusion can continue up until the mid-20s in some individuals. The timelines of bone ossification can vary by several months or years due to genetic and environmental factors.

Why Do Bones Fuse as Children Grow?

Bones fuse together as children grow for several important reasons:

  • Strengthening – Fused bones are stronger and more stable than unfused bones. This provides greater protection for vulnerable organs and allows the body to withstand greater physical stresses.
  • Support – The fused skeletal structure provides better leverage for movement and weight bearing. It supports upright posture and bipedal (two-legged) walking.
  • Protection – A fused solid skull offers maximum protection for the brain. Other fused bones help protect vital internal organs.
  • Muscle attachment – Fused bones provide solid anchoring points for muscles to attach to for coordinated movement.
  • Rigidity – Some fused bones reduce flexibility to allow for forceful movements like chewing.

In summary, bone fusion during childhood creates an adult skeleton adapted for strength, support, protection, movement, and specialized functions like chewing.

Unfused Bones at Birth Provide Flexibility

So why aren’t all the bones fused at birth?

Having many unfused bones allows great flexibility and molding of the fetal skeleton in the womb. The skull needs to be soft and pliable to squeeze through the narrow birth canal. All the unfused connections enable easier delivery and reduce risks of fracture during childbirth.

After birth, babies continue to have highly flexible skeletons. This allows for rapid growth and development:

  • Unfused skull bones enable large brain growth in the first few years of life
  • Loose rib connections allow the chest to expand as the lungs develop
  • Unfused hip and leg bones facilitate baby movements like crying, kicking, and bringing legs to the mouth
  • Wrists and ankles need great flexibility as motor skills develop

So while fused bones provide strength later in life, the flexibility of unfused fetal bones is crucial for early development while in the womb and after birth.

Differences Between Male and Female Bone Development

While the overall process of bone fusion is similar between sexes, there are a few differences in the skeletal development of males and females:

  • Girls typically begin the fusion process slightly earlier (by 6-12 months) than boys
  • Facial bone fusion in girls is usually complete 1-2 years earlier than in boys
  • Due to puberty and growth spurts happening earlier, hand and foot bones often fuse sooner in girls
  • The pelvis of females widens earlier to enable childbirth later in life
  • Due to testosterone during puberty, boys tend to develop broader shoulders and thicker bones

These differences lead to variation in the size, shape, proportions and strength of the male and female skeleton even after full maturity. Bone fusion timelines should be viewed as general guidelines that can vary significantly based on gender, genetics, and environmental factors.

Tracking Bone Fusion as a Child Grows

Bone fusion occurs gradually over many years as a child grows. Tracking ossification provides doctors valuable information on normal development.

Here are some ways bone fusion progression can be monitored:

  • Physical exam – Doctors check for late closure of fontanelles (soft spots) on a baby’s skull which may indicate a fusion delay
  • Neurological exam – Assessing a child’s motor skills, posture, and gait can indicate normal skeletal development
  • Growth charts – Unusual changes in a child’s growth curve can prompt evaluation of bone maturity
  • X-rays – Imaging studies clearly show the degree of fusion in all areas of the skeleton
  • Hand X-rays – Bones of the wrist and hand are used to most accurately determine bone age and maturity

If fusion appears accelerated or delayed, further testing may be needed to diagnose any underlying problems affecting development. But in most children, monitoring bone fusion progress is useful to ensure they stay right on schedule developmentally.

Problems with Atypical Bone Fusion

While variation in ossification timelines is normal, some children have atypical bone fusion that warrants concern. This includes:

  • Premature fusion – Bones fuse too early, restricting growth and flexibility
  • Delayed fusion – Bones remain unfused longer than normal, leading to deformity or fragility
  • Asymmetric fusion – Bones on one side of the body fuse differently than the other side
  • Fusion defects – Bones fail to fuse properly even when mature, causing instability
  • Extra bones – Persistence of additional sutural bones in the skull that can limit brain growth

These conditions may result from genetic disorders, metabolic diseases, hormone dysfunction, malnutrition, or damage to the growing skeleton. If caught early, treatment can improve skeletal alignment and prevent complications.


At birth, an infant has around 270 bones, far more than the 206 bones that adults possess. This surplus reflects primary ossification centers that enable flexibility in early development. Through the process of ossification, these extra bones fuse and consolidate into the adult skeletal structure.

While timing varies, most fusion is complete within the first five years of life. The sequence and progression of bone ossification is an important indicator that a child’s growth and motor skills are on track developmentally. Monitoring fusion through exams and X-rays can detect potential problems requiring further evaluation.

Understanding the number of bones at birth and the complex process of skeletal development provides insight into why growing children require specialized medical care focused on supporting healthy bone maturation. With the right nutrition and care, the 270 malleable fetal bones will transform into a strong and capable adult skeletal framework.


Source Reference Link
KidsHealth from Nemours
Stanford Children’s Health
Cleveland Clinic
NIH Osteoporosis and Related Bone Diseases ~ National Resource Center
American Academy of Pediatrics

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