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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- Acquired Hypothyroidism in Children
- Anatomy of the Newborn Skull
- Assessments for Newborn Babies
- Baby's Care After Birth
- Breast Milk Collection and Storage
- Breastfeeding and Delayed Milk Production
- Breastfeeding at Work
- Breastfeeding Difficulties - Baby
- Breastfeeding Difficulties - Mother
- Breastfeeding: Getting Started
- Breastfeeding Your Baby
- Breastfeeding Your Premature Baby
- Breathing Problems
- Care of the Baby in the Delivery Room
- Caring for Babies in the NICU
- Choosing Your Child's Healthcare Provider
- Chromosomal Abnormalities
- Common Conditions and Complications
- Common Procedures
- Congenital Heart Disease Index
- Difficulty with Latching On or Sucking
- Digestive Disorders
- Fever in A Newborn
- Graves Disease in Children
- Hearing Loss in Babies
- Hearing Screening Tests for Newborns
- Heart Disorders
- High-Risk Newborn Blood Disorders
- Infant Feeding Guide
- Infant of a Mother with Diabetes
- Infant Play
- Infant Sleep
- Infection in Babies
- Inguinal Hernia in Children
- Male Conditions
- Megaureter in Children
- Neurological Disorders in the Newborn
- Newborn Appearance
- Newborn Babies: Getting Ready at Home
- Newborn Care
- Newborn Complications
- Newborn Crying
- Newborn Health Assessment
- Newborn Measurements
- Newborn Multiples
- Newborn Reflexes
- Newborn Screening Tests
- Newborn Senses
- Newborn Sleep Patterns
- Newborn Warning Signs
- Normal Newborn Behaviors and Activities
- Physical Exam of the Newborn
- Preparing for Your New Baby
- Preparing the Family
- Skin Color Changes
- Substance Exposure
- Taking Your Baby Home
- The Growing Child: Newborn
- The Respiratory System in Babies
- Thrush (Oral Candida Infection) in Children
- Transient Tachypnea of the Newborn
- Umbilical Cord Care
- Vision and Hearing
- Keeping Your Baby Warm
- When to Call Your Child's Healthcare Provider
- Appendectomy for Children
- Babies' Warning Signs
- Babying Your Baby’s Skin
- Birthmarks in Infants
- Boost Verbal and Play Skills in Your 1-Year-Old
- BPA and Baby Bottles: Should You Be Concerned?
- Break Bad Sleep Habits
- Breastfeeding Best Bet Against Baby Allergies
- Building Baby’s Brain
- Cecostomy for Children
- Childhood Immunizations: Get the Facts
- CT Abdominal Scan for Children
- Dental Care for Infants
- Does My Baby Have an Ear Infection?
- Encouraging Your Baby’s Social Skills
- Flu Shots Urged for Young Children
- High-Risk Newborns and Low Milk Production
- How to Choose the Right Pediatrician
- How to Soothe Your Teething Baby
- How to Use Pacifiers Safely
- Is Organic Food Right for Your Baby?
- Is Your Baby Getting Enough Milk?
- Jaundice Is Not Unusual
- Keep Your Kids Safe with Immunizations
- Lack of Sleep Can Harm a Child’s Health
- Make Baby’s Bedtime Safe and Sound
- Mom and Baby Bond through Kangaroo Care
- Pacifiers May Protect Against SIDS
- Playing It Safe: The Whole Toy Story
- Reach Out and Touch Your Baby
- Special Concerns for International Travel While Nursing
- Survive Your Little One's First Flight
- Swaddled Babies Sleep Better
- When It’s Time to See the Pediatric Ophthalmologist
- When Should You Stop Breastfeeding?
- Your Child's First Dental Visit
- Your Child’s Vaccines: Get the Facts