12 important things you should know about your newborn baby

Your baby has arrived and you probably can’t wait to see what he looks like. One thing’s for sure, you might be in for a bit of a surprise!


Your newborn baby’s head

The head of your newborn will be quite large, about 25% of his total body length. His skull is made up of several bones that will eventually fuse together; this permits your baby’s large head to squeeze through the narrow birth canal.

The heads of infants born by vaginal delivery often show some degree of molding – when the skull bones shift and overlap, making the top of your baby’s head look elongated or even pointed. This condition usually disappears without treatment within a few days, so don’t be distressed. The heads of babies born by Caesarean section or a breech delivery usually don’t show molding.

You will notice two ‘soft spots. These are the fontanelles on the top of the head. The anterior fontanelle is large and diamond shaped and closes when your baby is about 18 months old. The smaller, triangular-shaped posterior fontanelle at the back of the head closes around 6 months of age. The fontanelles will eventually disappear as the skull bones merge.

ALSO SEE: Caring for your baby’s fontanelle/soft spot

Your baby’s face

Your newborn’s face may look a bit puffy due to fluid accumulation, but often changes significantly after a few days. In some cases his features can be quite distorted, such as a folded ear, a flattened nose or a crooked jaw. Don’t worry, he’ll ‘look normal’ in no time at all.

Your newborn’s eyes

Due to the puffiness of their eyelids, some infants may not be able to open their eyes wide open right away. While eyes of dark-skinned babies are brown, other babies are usually born with blue eyes that may change colour over the following few months. A cross-eyed appearance can also be normal in the first six weeks.

ALSO SEE: Track your baby’s vision development with our eyesight check list

All ears

A newborn’s ears may be distorted by the position as a result of the position they were in inside the uterus. This will normalise over time.

ALSO SEE: Does your baby have a hearing problem? Look out for these signs

Wiggle that nose

Newborns tend to breathe through their noses – since the nasal passages are narrow, small amounts of mucus can cause babies to breathe noisily. Talk to your doctor about using salt-water nose drops and a bulb syringe to help clear the nasal passages.

Mouth matters

When your baby opens his mouth, you may notice some small white spots on the roof of his mouth, near the centre. These small collections of cells are called Epstein’s pearls and along with fluid-filled cysts that are sometimes found on the gums, will disappear during the next few weeks.

Your baby’s neck

Newborns’ necks normally look very short because their necks tend to disappear in folds of the skin and their chubby cheeks.

Baby’s chest

Both male and female babies might have breast enlargement due to the female hormone that is passed from the mother to the foetus. Occasionally, a small amount of milky fluid may be released from the nipples; you should not squeeze your baby’s breast tissue.

Curvy arms and legs

Your newborn’s arms and legs are flexed and held close to his body and his hands and are usually clenched tightly. Your new baby’s fingernails can also be long enough to scratch his skin. A newborn’s feet and legs tend to curve inward due to the position he was lying in inside your womb.

ALSO SEE: 8 newborn reflexes and why your little one has them

Your baby’s belly

It is normal for a baby’s belly to appear full and rounded. The umbilical cord contains three blood vessels (two arteries and a vein) incased in a jelly-like substance. The cord is clamped of before it is cut to separate your baby from the placenta.

ALSO SEE: Caring for your baby’s umbilical cord

Genitalia development

The sexual organs of male and female newborns may appear relatively large and swollen due to the exposure of hormones. In girls, the lips of the vagina may appear puffy and the skin may be somewhat wrinkled. Sometimes, a small pink tissue may protrude between the labia (hymenal tag) that will eventually recede into the labia as the genitals develop. In boys, the scrotum (the sack containing testicles) often looks swollen. The testicles may be difficult to feel inside the swollen scrotum.

ALSO SEE: How to care for your baby’s genitals

Sensitive skin

Newborns are covered with various fluids after birth. This includes amniotic fluid, and often some blood. Babies are also coated with a thick, white substance called vernix caseosa, which consists of the foetus’ shed skins cells and skin gland secretions. Fine, soft hair (lanugo) may be found on your baby’s face, back and shoulders. This hair will disappear in the weeks to follow. Small, red bumps that often have a yellow or white ‘tip’ often occur on your baby’s face and on large parts of his body. It is a harmless condition and will fade within weeks.

ALSO SEE: Common baby skin conditions

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