Basics About Your Newborn’s Body

For the past nine months, you’ve been getting ready for your baby’s arrival. But now that you’re bringing home your bundle of joy, you’re a little worried. How will you ever remember everything you learned about what to expect in those first few weeks?

“There’s an overload of well-meaning sources—grandparents, friends, relatives, tons of parenting books, and Web sites,” says Paul Horowitz, M.D., a spokesman for the American Academy of Pediatrics. Even the best-prepared parents may be surprised by a few things that are quite normal in newborns:

Moulding

As babies make their way into this world, their skull bones actually overlap so they can pass through the birth canal. You might notice that your baby’s head appears elongated, a look known as moulding, but don’t worry—this usually goes away by the end of the first week.

Soft Spots

The two soft areas on your baby’s head are known as fontanels. They will be there until the bones in the skull knit together. When your baby cries, the fontanels may bulge. You also might notice that these soft spots pulse along with your baby’s heartbeat.

Vernix

This is a white, greasy, cheese-like substance that covers the skin of many babies at birth. It is formed by secretions from the baby's oil glands and protects the baby's skin in the amniotic fluid during pregnancy. If your baby is born after 41 weeks, you may not see this substance at all. While it’s not the prettiest of substances, vernix doesn’t need to be removed and will likely absorb into your baby’s skin.

Color

Your baby’s skin color will vary greatly based on his or her age, race or ethnic group, temperature, health, and temperament. Environment will play a factor as your baby grows, too.

Babies’ skin looks dark red to purple when they are first born, but this color quickly changes to red once they start breathing. Since babies’ blood circulation is still immature, their hands and feet may appear bluish for several days. If your baby’s body looks blue anywhere else, this is not normal.

Some newborns develop a yellow coloring called jaundice. This may be a normal response as the body rids itself of excess red blood cells. Sometime jaundice means there’s a more serious condition, especially if the yellow color appears in the first day and worsens. To look for jaundice, gently press on your baby's forehead or chest and watch for the color return. If you still can’t tell, laboratory tests may be needed and you should talk to your doctor.

Lanugo

This is soft, downy hair on a baby's body, especially on the shoulders, back, forehead, and cheeks. It’s more noticeable in premature babies, but isn’t usually seen in babies born very late in pregnancy.

Stork Bites or Salmon Patches

These are small pink or red patches often found on a baby's eyelids, the area between the eyes, upper lip, and back of the neck. The name comes from the marks on the back of the neck where, as the myth goes, a stork may have picked up the baby. However, the marks are actually due to a concentration of immature blood vessels. If your infant has these, you may notice them more when your baby cries. Most stork bites fade and disappear completely.

Mongolian Spots

Mongolian spots are blue or purple-colored splotches on a baby's lower back and bottom. Over 80 percent of African-American, Asian, and Indian babies have Mongolian spots, but dark-skinned babies of all races can get them. The spots are caused by a concentration of pigmented cells, and usually disappear by the time a baby is 4 years old.

Strawberry Hemangioma

This is a bright or dark red, raised or swollen, bumpy area that looks like a strawberry. Hemangiomas are formed by a concentration of tiny, immature blood vessels—usually on the head. If you don’t see a hemangioma when your baby is born, it’s possible one could develop within two months. Don’t be alarmed if the hemangioma keeps growing for a few months. These birthmarks do fade over time, and usually disappear by the time a child is 9. Hemangiomas are more common in premature babies and in girls.

Port Wine Stain

A port wine stain is a flat, pink, red, or purple-colored birthmark that’s caused by a concentration of tiny, dilated blood vessels called capillaries. They usually occur on a baby’s head or neck. They may be small, or they may cover large areas of the body. Port wine stains won’t change color if you gently press on them, and they do not disappear over time. They may become darker and may bleed when your child is older or as an adult. If your baby has a port wine stain on his or her face, it may mean that there’s a more serious problem. Skin-colored cosmetics may be used to cover small port wine stains, but the most effective treatment is to use a special type of laser. This would be done by a plastic surgery specialist when your baby is older.

Erythema Toxicum

Erythema toxicum is a red rash on newborns that looks a lot like a flea bite. The rash is usually found on the chest and back, but can be found all over. Erythema toxicum is less common in premature babies, but about half of all babies develop this condition in the first few days of life. The cause of this rash is unknown, but it’s not dangerous and will disappear on its own in a few days.

Milia

Milia are tiny, white, hard spots that look like pimples on your newborn's nose. They may also appear on the chin and forehead. Milia form from oil glands and disappear on their own. If you find these in your baby's mouth and on the gums, they’re called Epstein pearls. Sometimes they look like emerging teeth.

Baby acne

About one-fifth of newborns develop pimples in the first month—usually on the cheeks and forehead. Your own hormones may likely be the culprit, but don’t feel guilty. Your baby’s acne should disappear within a few months. Don’t try to break open or squeeze the pimples, since this can lead to infection.

Breasts

Your baby’s breasts—whether you have a boy or a girl—may get larger around the third day of life. In the first week, a milky substance, sometimes called "witch's milk," may leak from the nipples. This is related to your hormones and goes away within a few days to weeks. Don’t try to massage or squeeze your baby’s breasts or nipples, because this could lead to infection.

Cord Color

Your baby’s umbilical cord stump will eventually fall off on its own, but first it will turn yellow (with no pus) and then brown or black.

Swollen Genitals/Discharge

Your newborn's genitals may appear different depending on his or her gestational age (the number of weeks of pregnancy). If you have a baby girl who’s born premature, she may have a very prominent clitoris and inner labia. If she’s born closer to full-term, she’ll have a larger outer labia. Your baby girl may also have a small amount of whitish discharge or blood-tinged mucus from her vagina in the first few weeks. This is normal and related to your hormones.

If you have a baby boy who’s born premature, he may have a smooth, flat scrotum with undescended testicles. If he’s born later in pregnancy, he’ll have ridges in the scrotum with descended testicles.

Rapid Breathing

Healthy newborns average 40 breaths a minute, while adults take 12 to 18. Your baby’s breathing may pause for up to 10 seconds, but then he or she will start breathing again.

Odd Movements

Newborns’ bodies are ruled by reflexes. So, your baby won’t be able to control most movements very well for the first few months. Your baby’s chin, arms, or legs may seem shaky, especially when crying.

If you feel your child is ill or if something just doesn’t seem right, call the doctor. “We would much rather answer a question than have a bad outcome because you didn’t feel comfortable asking us about something,” says Dr. Horowitz.

Online Medical Reviewer:

Date Last Reviewed: 4/2/2010

© 2000-2018 The StayWell Company, LLC. 800 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.

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