Newborns have many variations in their appearance. Your baby’s head might be oval shaped and his eyelids may be puffy. Be assured, your baby will definitely change in appearance over the first few weeks of life.
Your baby’s head may appear large compared with the rest of his body, and it may be more elongated due to the delivery process. Changes in the shape of the baby’s head after birth is called “molding.” Molding gradually corrects itself in about a week. Alternating your baby’s head position from one side to the other will help.
Babies have two soft spots, or “fontanels,” on their head. The one in the front usually closes between six and 24 months. The one on the back of the head is often closed at birth or closes within three months.
Newborns can see, but not as clearly as adults. Your baby may look cross-eyed for the first few months of life because of underdeveloped eye muscle control. Eye coloring may also change after birth to its permanent color at about six months of age.
Your newborn may have swelling around the eyes. This goes away a few days after birth. Some babies have a red area in the white part of the eye. This is a small hemorrhage (bleeding) from pressure during birth. No treatment is necessary and it will disappear within several weeks.
The ointment placed in your baby’s eyes after birth may cause a slight redness, with some swelling of the lids and watering of the eyes for the first few days. Wash your baby’s eyelids with clear, warm water using a clean cloth or cotton balls. Wipe from the inside, near the nose, out toward the ear. Use a clean section of the wash cloth or a new cotton ball on each eye to avoid transferring germs from one eye to the other.
The genitals in some boy and girl babies may appear swollen. Girl babies have thick, white, occasionally blood-tinged secretions from the vagina. Baby boys may have swollen testicles. Babies of either sex may have enlarged breasts and milky fluid coming from the nipples. This is because your baby still has your maternal hormones. As your hormones gradually disappear from your baby's body, so does the swelling.
Newborns have skin that is pink or light brown in color. Mucous membranes of the lips and inside the mouth are pink in color. Some blueness of the hands and feet are normal the first two to three days.
Peeling or cracking skin around the wrists or ankles is common, especially in babies who have gone past their due date. As new skin cells grow, this condition will clear up without treatment.
Lanugo is the name of the downy fuzz sometimes seen on the backs, arms and ears of newborn babies. It disappears in a few weeks.
Milia are tiny yellow-white cysts on the nose, forehead and cheeks. Do not squeeze them. They will go away by themselves.
Vernix is the creamy substance that protected your baby’s skin while in the uterus. It may be seen in skin folds. Some parents remove vernix shortly after birth while wiping the baby down and bathing it, while others choose to leave it in place. The moisturizing properties of the coating help prevent drying and cracking of infant skin. It is absorbed by the skin in a few days.
All these conditions are normal and disappear rapidly as the baby grows and adjusts to life outside the womb.
A raised pimple-like rash around the cord or genital area may occur. Usually this rash clears up with normal bathing or exposure to air. See your baby’s doctor if the rash does not go away or gets worse. Your doctor will check for any blister-like rash that ruptures, leaves a scab or continues to spread.
Skin rashes can also result from overdressing or harsh laundry soaps. As your baby becomes warm and sweats, skin irritation develops. This is especially common in the skin folds. To prevent rashes, keep these areas clean and dry and avoid overdressing the baby. Try milder laundry soap and rinse clothing twice if possible.
Your baby’s umbilical cord stump will usually dry and fall off two to three weeks after birth. To help prevent infection and to help it dry, clean the base of the cord stump daily with a cotton ball soaked with alcohol. Your baby may cry when you touch him with the cold alcohol, but this is not painful to your baby.
Clean with water if the cord is soiled with urine or stool. If your baby’s cord is not dry before you leave the hospital, the clamp will not be removed. The clamp will fall off with the cord in two to three weeks.
Try to keep your baby’s diaper positioned below the navel until it has completely healed. Call your baby’s doctor if the cord:
- Becomes red
- Smells bad
- Has pus at its base
- Has red skin around its base
- Is so sensitive that your baby cries when you touch the cord and the skin next to it with your finger.
Give sponge baths until the cord stump falls off and the navel is completely healed.
Do not cut or bite your baby's nails. It’s very easy to accidentally cut the skin, causing pain and bleeding. Use mittens or baby booties to cover your baby's hands to prevent scratching of the face. You may use an emery board to file the nails. Your baby's doctor can instruct you about when it is safe to cut your baby's nails.
Use a washcloth, not cotton swabs or Q-tips®, to clean your baby’s ears. Never insert a cotton swab into the ear canal.