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Physical Appearance of a Newborn

Published February 01, 2008        by Nicole

You might notice someday while you are putting on baby clothes, that a newborn looks very different from older babies and children.Her head is relatively large, measuring one fourth of her entire length.Her disproportionately short legs are only one third of her length.Clearly in humans, brain development takes precedence over development of the rest of the body.


Aside from being large, her head may look misshapen and even a little bruised.The bones of the skull are separated, rather than fused as they are in adults.This separation allows the bones to slide over each other as the head passes through the narrow birth canal.Also this mobility is essential to accommodate an infant’s rapid brain growth.If you caress the top of her head, you will feel the “soft spots,” or fontanels, in the skull.Here the bones are widely separated, but the brain is covered by a tough membrane and scalp.You won’t hurt your baby by gently touching these areas.The anterior fontanel, located in the midline on top of the head, usually closes between nine and eighteen months after birth.Behind it is the smaller posterior fontanel, which closes by four months.


Your baby’s eyelids may be red and swollen from pressure during the delivery.In most hospitals, antibiotic drops are applied to the newborn’s eyes.The droops may cause mild, temporary inflammation.

As your baby studies your face, you may notice that one eye wanders or the two eyes don’t move together smoothly.Unless one eye almost seems fixed in position [cross-eyed or wall-eyed], this wandering is normal and will be corrected as the baby gains strength and coordination in the muscles that move the eyes.


The cartilage in the outer ear is very flexible in the newborn.If an ear looks folded, don’t worry-it will probably straighten out.If the problem continues, talk to your doctor.


At birth, the nose and mouth are often filled with mucous.After the delivery, suctioning by hospital staff with a rubber syringe clears the airways and helps your baby to breathe.Her own sneezing helps clear her nasal passages and is not necessarily the sign of a cold.


An occasionally baby already has one or more teeth at birth, which usually fall out.Your doctor may want to extract these teeth so that your baby doesn’t later choke on them.If your baby did a lot of sucking in the womb, blisters may be present on the upper lip, as well as on the fingers, hands or forearm.


Your baby’s skin is wonderfully soft. It may not, however, appear as flawless as the complexion of an older infant.The newborn’s skin often has a ruddier hue.For the first few days, the hands and feet may appear to be tinged with blue.Soon the baby’s circulation will improve and the skin color will be more uniform.

Over half of newborns have some degree of jaundice in the first week of life.In most cases, this condition is due to the immaturity of the liver and is not a threat to the baby.The liver is the organ that helps to clear bilirubin, a waste product of broken down red blood cells.Since the liver is not completely mature at birth, babies are often not able to excrete bilirubin as well as adults.It is the deposition of bilirubin in the skin and the whites of the eyes that give them a yellowish tinge.

Jaundice first appears on the face and spreads downward as the bilirubin level increases.Normal newborn or “physiologic,” jaundice is usually first visible between the second and fifth days of life, peaks between the fifth and seventh days, and clears within one to two weeks.In some breastfed babies jaundice may last a bit longer.

Unless your doctor determines that the bilirubin level is too high, you can probably manage your baby’s jaundice at home.The mainstay of home treatment is frequent feedings at breast or bottle.Bilirubin is eliminated in the urine and feces; the elimination can be accelerated by increasing fluid intake.Bilirubin is broken down in the skin, and light stimulates the action.The wavelength of light that hastens bilirubin breakdown in the skin passes through glass and plastic.Because this is so, placing the baby near a sunny window [for short periods of time] is beneficial.

Your doctor may follow your baby’s progress by checking the bilirubin level with a simple blood test.If the level rises excessively, the baby will require hospitalization for phototherapy treatment [exposure to light at a wavelength similar to that of ultraviolet light] and to determine whether the jaundice is due to something more serious than immature liver function.

In most babies, the jaundice resolves spontaneously.If your baby has jaundice, your doctor will tell you what to do to speed its disappearance.

Birthmarks are a fairly common skin condition of the newborn.Babies of darker skinned parents may have “Mongolian spots,” due to a bluish pigmentation under the skin over the lower part of the back and buttocks.“Stork bites,” also called [“angel kisses”] are red, flat birthmarks usually located on the bridge of the nose, the upper eyelids, or the back of the neck.They usually disappear by the second birthday, but may reappear with crying.Sometimes the spots on the nape of the neck persist into adulthood.

Rashes often develop within the first few days of life.Although parents tend to worry bout these skin blemishes, most of them are harmless and go away on their own.Milia are small white “pimples” on the face, caused by maternal hormones.They go away in several days without treatment. Erythema toxicum-a rash of red bumps with yellow centers and a generally “flea bitten’ appearance-occurs in half of all newborns.It is harmless and disappears on its own in a week or so.