Your Newborn's Appearance

What should I know about my newborn's appearance?

Your baby was born with his own special personality and appearance. He may look like certain family members. He may also look different than you expect. Some of his body parts may look a certain way because he was in your uterus for many months. As he grows, many of these features will change.

What should I know about my baby's head?

  • Head shape: Your newborn baby's head may not be perfectly round right after birth. Going through labor and delivery can cause your baby's head to have an odd shape. The head may have molded into a narrow, long shape to go through your birth canal. It may have a bump on one side. Your baby may have bruising or swelling on his head because of the birth process. This is usually normal. His head should look rounder and more even in 1 or 2 weeks.

  • Fontanels: Fontanels are soft spots on the top front part and back of your baby's skull. They are protected by a tough tissue because the bones have not grown together yet. Your baby's brain grows very quickly during his first year. The purpose of the soft spots is to make room for his brain to grow. Soft spots are usually flat, but may bulge when your baby cries or strains. It is normal to see and feel a pulse beating under a soft spot. You may be more likely to see the pulse if your baby has little hair and is fair-skinned. It is okay to touch and wash your baby's soft spots.

  • Hair: Your baby may be born with a little or a lot of hair. It is common for some of your baby's hair to fall out. By the time your baby is 6 months old, he should have grown more hair. Your baby's hair may change to a different color than the one he was born with.

  • Ears: At birth, one or both of your baby's ears may be folded over. This is because your baby was crowded while growing in the uterus. Ears may stay folded for a short time before unfolding on their own.

What should I know about my baby's eyes?

  • Your baby's eyelids may be puffy. He may have blood spots in the white areas of one or both eyes. These are often caused by the pressure on your baby's face during delivery. Eye medicines that your baby needs after birth to prevent infections may cause your baby's eyes to look red. The swelling and redness in your baby's eyes will usually go away in 3 days. It may take up to 3 weeks before blood spots in your baby's eyes are gone.

  • Most light-skinned babies are born with blue-gray eyes. The eye color of light-skinned babies may change during the first year. Dark-skinned babies usually have brown eyes that do not change color. If your baby will not open his eyes, the lights in the room may be too bright. Try dimming the lights to encourage your baby to open his eyes.

  • It is common for your baby to cry without making tears. A newborn baby's eyes usually make just enough tears to keep his eyes wet. By 7 to 8 months old, your baby's eyes will develop so they can make more tears. Tears drain into small ducts at the inside corners of each eye. A blocked tear duct is common in newborns. A possible sign of a blocked tear duct is a yellow sticky discharge in one or both of your baby's eyes. Your baby's pediatrician may show you how to massage your baby's tear ducts to unplug them.

What should I know about my baby's nose?

  • Your baby's nose may be pushed in or flat because of the tight squeeze during labor and delivery. It may take a week or longer before your baby's nose looks more normal.

  • It may seem like your baby does not breathe regularly. He may take short breaths and then hold his breath for a few seconds. Your baby may then take a deep breath. This irregular breathing is common during the first weeks of life. Irregular breathing is also more common in premature babies. By the end of the first month, your baby's breathing should be more regular.

  • Babies also make many different noises when breathing, such as gurgling or snorting. Most of the noises are caused by air passing through small breathing passages. These sounds are normal and will go away as your baby grows.

What should I know about my baby's mouth?

  • When you look inside your baby's mouth, you may see small white bumps on his gums. These bumps are usually fluid-filled sacs called cysts. They will soon go away on their own. You may also see yellow-white spots on the roof of his mouth. They will also go away without special care.

  • Your baby may get a lip callus (thickened skin) on his upper lip during the first month. It is caused by sucking and should go away within your baby's first year. This callus does not bother your baby, so you do not need to remove it.

What should I know about my baby's skin?

At birth, your baby's skin may be covered with a waxy coating called vernix. As the vernix comes off and the skin dries, your baby's skin will peel. Babies who are born after their due date may have a large amount of skin peeling. This is normal. Peeling does not mean that your baby's skin is too dry. You do not need to put lotions or oils on your newborn's skin to stop the peeling or to treat rashes. At birth or during his first few months, your baby may have any of the following:

  • Erythema toxicum: This is a red rash that may appear anywhere on your baby's body except the soles of the feet and palms of the hands. The rash may appear within 3 days after birth. No treatment is needed for this rash. It usually goes away in 1 to 2 weeks.

  • Milia: These are small white or yellow bumps that may appear on your newborn's face. Milia are caused by blocked skin pores. Many milia may break out across your baby's nose, cheeks, chin, and forehead. Do not squeeze or scrub milia. Rubbing creams or ointments on milia may make them worse. When your baby is 1 to 2 months old, his skin pores begin to naturally open. When this happens, his milia will go away.

  • Newborn acne: Some babies get newborn acne when they are 3 to 5 weeks old. Your baby's cheeks may feel rough and may be covered with a red, oily rash. Wash your baby's face with warm water. Do not use baby oil, creams, ointments, or other products. These will only make this rash worse. Keep your baby's fingernails short to keep him from scratching his cheeks. No special treatment will clear up newborn acne. Like milia, newborn acne should go away once your baby's skin pores begin to naturally open.

  • Scrapes or bruises: Going through the birth process can cause your baby to have scrapes and bruises. If forceps were used to deliver your baby, they may leave marks on his face or head. Your baby may have bumps and bruises from going through the birth canal without forceps. A fetal monitor may also have left marks on your baby's scalp. Scrapes and bruises should be gone within 2 weeks. Lumps and bumps, especially from forceps, may take up to 2 months to go away.

  • Hair: Your baby's shoulders and back may be covered with lanugo. This is a fine coating of soft hair. It can be very light or quite dark. This hair should rub or fall off your baby within the first month. Lanugo is more common in premature babies.

What should I know about birthmarks?

It is common for a baby's skin to have birthmarks. Birthmarks come in different sizes, shapes, and colors. Some birthmarks shrink or fade with time. Other birthmarks may stay on your baby's skin for his entire life. Ask your baby's caregiver to check birthmarks you have questions about. You baby may have any of the following:

  • Café au lait spots: These are flat skin patches that are light brown or tan. They may be found anywhere on your newborn's body. The spots may get smaller as he grows.

  • Moles: Moles are dark-brown or black. They may be on your baby's skin when he is born, or they may form later. Most moles are harmless and do not need to be removed.

  • Mongolian spots: These spots are commonly seen on the buttocks, back, or legs. These spots may be green, blue, or gray and look like bruises. Mongolian spots are harmless, and usually go away by the time your child is school-aged.

  • Port wine stain: These are large, flat birthmarks that are pink, red, or purple. A port wine stain is caused by too many blood vessels under the skin. A port wine stain may fade in time, but will not go away without surgery.

  • Stork bite: A stork bite is a common birthmark, especially on light-skinned babies. Stork bites are flat, irregular patches that may be light or dark pink. Stork bites can usually be seen on the eyelids, lower forehead, or top of a baby's nose. They may also be found on the back of a baby's head or neck. Most stork bites fade and go away by your baby's first birthday.

  • Strawberry hemangioma: This is a rough, raised, red bump caused by a group of blood vessels near the surface of the skin. Right after birth, it may be pale or white, and may turn red later. It may get larger during the first months of a baby's life, then shrink and go away.

What should I know about my newborn's breasts?

Your newborn boy or girl may have swollen breasts after birth for a few weeks. This is caused by hormones that are passed to your newborn before birth. Your baby's breasts may be swollen longer if he is being breastfed. This is because hormones are passed to him through breast milk. Your baby's breasts may also have a milky discharge. Do not squeeze your baby's breasts. This will not stop the swelling and could cause an infection.

What should I know about my baby's genitalia?

  • Female: A girl's external genitalia may look swollen and red. Your baby girl may also have a clear, white, pink, or blood-colored discharge from her vagina. Hormones passed from mother to baby before birth cause this. This discharge should go away within 1 to 4 weeks.

  • Male:

    • The rounded end of your boy's penis is called the glans. The foreskin is the skin that covers the glans. Right after birth, your baby's glans and foreskin are attached. This is normal. Do not try to pull back the foreskin. With time, the foreskin slowly starts to come apart from the glans. If your baby had a circumcision, ask his caregiver how to care for it.

    • It is common for a baby boy to have an erection of his penis. He may have an erection during diaper changes, when breastfeeding, or when you are washing him. He may also have an erection when his diaper rubs against his penis.

What should I know about my baby's toes and fingers?

Your baby's fingernails are very soft, and they grow very quickly. You may need to trim them with baby nail clippers 1 or 2 times each week. Be careful not to cut too closely to his skin because you may cut the skin and cause bleeding. It may be easier to cut his fingernails when he is asleep. Your baby's toenails may grow much slower. They may be soft and deeply set into each toe. You will not need to trim them as often.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your baby's care. You can discuss choices with your baby's caregivers. Work with them to decide what choices are best for your baby.The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© 2014 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

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