Your Baby Head to Toe

Newborns. We dream of them, we wait for them, and they are perfect. That is perfectly imperfect. Parents should be prepared and realize that not all newborns look like one another or look perfect from head to toe.  


Your baby’s head and features


Newborn babies’ heads are rarely round. Actually, they are more oval with occasion bumps and scratches from birth or even cone-shaped. Babies who are born naturally via the vagina can have cone-shaped heads, swollen areas, prominent ridges, scratches, or marks from navigating mom’s pelvis. Babies born via cesarean may also have similar marks or may also have the classic round shape. All are completely normal.

Some newborns are born with a full head of hair and others are bald. The hair at birth usually looks darker and curlier due to the amniotic fluid. Many babies have extra hair on the forehead, sideburns, and even some back hair. This is normal and it will fall out after birth. Your baby may also lose the hair on their head becoming bald before growing it back and others lose it little by little.

Newborn babies are born with a smushed flat nose. This is not their permanent nose but rather a nose that has yet to be revealed. They are also “obligate nasal breathers” which means their natural preference is to breathe through their nose. If the nasal passage is blocked, it can be dangerous and uncomfortable. So you may notice your baby sneezing – a lot. As they can’t clear their airway consciously by sniffing or blowing their nose. So they sneeze, to clear out whatever is sitting in the nasal passages. 

For babies that have more mucus, saline sprays or drops, plus a good nasal aspirator can help keep their airway clear. Also, consider a good cold water humidifier for the baby’s room.

Their newborn eyes are often very swollen at birth. The swelling will abate a few hours after birth allowing them to open their eyes more. They also focus best on bold patterns and the colors of red, black, and white that are 9-12 inches from their eyes for the first few months after birth.

It is common for a newborn to have a blocked tear duct. This means that they have a build-up of discharge on or in their eyes, which should be cleaned with damp warm cotton wool pads or a bit of breastmilk. It usually resolves on its own.

They can have hiccups at regular irregular times of the day. Many babies who have regular hiccups in utero will follow the same pattern after birth. Some babies will also hiccup when overstimulated. Either way, it doesn’t bother them and eventually, they will go to sleep.


Your baby’s body and umbilical cord 


All babies, especially females, may have swollen nipples at birth and into the postpartum period, some even leak small amounts of colostrum from the nipple due to the hormones they shared within utero. This will clear up as the hormones are passed through their bodies.

All babies also have an umbilical cord stump that needs care until it separates and falls off. It usually falls off around day 7-10. Before falling off, you may notice some spotting or mucous on the baby’s chest or onesie as it starts to detach. Keep the area clean and dry until it falls off. If it smells unusual call your pediatrician. Once the setup has separated you can bathe your baby, directly in the water instead of sponge bathing.


Your baby’s genitals and diapers 


Your baby’s genitals will appear large at first. Females can have swollen and exposed vulvas. Males will have swollen heavy scrotums. Females may also present with a slight vaginal discharge which can be clear or blood-tinged due to all the maternal hormones that she shares with their mother in utero.

If you choose to circumcise your male baby, the head of the penis will look raw and irritated for about 10 days. Follow your provider’s instructions for care.

Newborns can also pass orange or rusty-colored urine or uric acid crystals. If you see this, check with your pediatrician during a weight check. As your baby grows this passes and is totally normal. This also can be a sign that your baby is not getting enough nutrition. Your baby should have 5-6 wet diapers per day by day 5.

The first bowel movements are a thick black tar-like substance called meconium. As your baby ingests more food the bowels will change from a pea soup consistency to a liquid yellow stool if breastfeeding or a more solid brown stool if formula feeding. Your baby should pass a palmful of stool or more a day.


Your baby’s skin


Babies have sensitive skin. It’s not uncommon for a newborn to present with a body or face rash or pimples after birth. Baby acne is common and usually shows up around day 10, lasting for a week or two and no treatment is needed.

When babies are born they have a cold cream-like covering on them called vernix. This sophisticated biofilm is antibacterial, antifungal, and antimicrobial. It is also thermoregulating, helping your baby to regulate its core temperature as long as the vernix is present. Babies born at 37 weeks will have a thick layer that is rubbed in at birth and babies born at 42 weeks only have a slight coating as it has broken down in the amniotic fluid. Thicker layers keep babies from drying out or having peeling skin. Both are normal. 

Birthmarks are also common for all children of all races. About 80% of all babies have a birthmark. 

Common birthmarks include small pink ‘stork bites’ or ‘angel kisses’ that can be found on the baby’s head and neck. Slate blue-grey birthmarks called Mongolian spots are usually on the body of darker pigmented children. There are also moles, port wine stains, hemangioma, and others. Talk to your pediatrician about treatment but most fade or disappear on their own.