Patient education: Newborn appearance (The Basics)

Written by the doctors and editors at UpToDate
All topics are updated as new evidence becomes available and our peer review process is complete.
This topic retrieved from UpToDate on: Nov 24, 2016.

What does a healthy newborn look like? — A healthy newborn baby might look strange at first. Before being born, a baby is surrounded by liquid in the uterus (figure 1). The baby is also in a curled-up position, because there’s not much space to move around. Plus, babies who are born through the vagina have to squeeze through a small passage. All of these things can affect a newborn’s appearance.

The descriptions below should help you prepare for how your baby might look (figure 2).

●Skin – Babies are born covered in a thick white substance, as well as fluid and blood from the mother’s body. All of this washes off with the baby’s first bath.

A healthy newborn’s skin is usually pink. But sometimes the skin can look slightly blue, especially in the hands, feet, and around the lips. That is normal.

Your baby might have some bruises, red spots, or scratches on his or her skin after being born. This is nothing to worry about. Bruises and scratches can be caused by a device called a “fetal probe” that doctors use to monitor the baby during birth. Some newborns also have small acne-like spots or bumps on the skin; these will go away over time. You might notice that your newborn has one or more birthmarks, which might be permanent.

●Head – A newborn’s head usually looks big compared to the rest of the body. The head might also look pointy or cone-shaped from being squeezed through the mother’s vagina. The head should return to its normal shape within a few days. Newborns have several “soft spots” on their heads where the bones have not yet grown together.

Some babies are born bald, while others have hair. Often, the hair that a baby is born with will fall out within a month or so and be replaced by new hair.

●Face – Your baby’s face might look swollen or squished right after he or she is born. The mouth and nose will be filled with mucus, which a doctor or nurse will suction out. Both sides of the face should look symmetrical, or even.

The whites of the eyes should be clear and white, although in premature babies, they might appear pale blue.

●Neck – The neck skin should be smooth and without lumps. Some babies are born with the neck twisted to one side, due to their position in the uterus. This is called “wry neck” or “torticollis.” There are ways to treat this and help straighten out the neck.

●Chest and belly – You might notice that your newborn has some swelling in the breast area. Sometimes the breasts might even leak a milky fluid. This is because of hormones from the mother’s body. This swelling or leaking usually goes away within a few days or weeks.

Your newborn’s belly will probably be round and stick out a bit. After the umbilical cord is cut, a small stump will stay attached to your baby’s belly button. Your baby’s doctor or nurse will tell you how to care for it. The stump will fall off on its own within a week or two.

●Genitals – In both boys and girls, the genitals often look puffy or swollen after birth. If your baby is a girl, you might notice some discharge from the vagina. It is usually white in color but can sometimes be bloody. This is normal. It is caused by hormones in the mother’s body, and will go away on its own.

In newborn boys, the foreskin (the skin covering the tip of the penis) is usually tight and should not be pulled back. This skin will be removed surgically if you choose to have your baby circumcised.

●Arms/legs – Your newborn might prefer to keep his or her arms and legs bent and close to the body, like they were when he or she was in the womb. The arms and legs should move equally on both sides of the body.

What will the doctor check for after my baby is born? — Soon after your baby is born, a doctor or nurse will:

●Look at the baby’s genitals to see whether the baby is a girl or a boy

●Look at the baby’s skin to make sure it is a healthy color

●Check the body’s position and movement

●Look over the baby’s entire body to check that all the parts look normal

●Measure the baby’s weight, length, and head size

●Make sure the baby’s organs (including the heart and lungs) are working right

How can I tell if my baby has a problem? — You can’t always tell just by looking at a newborn whether he or she is healthy. No two babies look exactly the same. But your baby’s doctor or nurse can check for certain things.

The appearance, size, or position of some body parts can be symptoms of different health issues. That’s why it’s important to have the baby checked by a doctor or nurse.

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