Newborns’ Characteristics that May Alarm Parents, but Are Normal
As new parents, you and your spouse are beside yourselves with joy over your new baby. Everything about your newborn seems magical and thrilling. But some characteristics that are perfectly normal in newborns may perhaps make you wonder if they’re something that’s peculiar to your baby, and if you need to do anything about it.
Let’s review a number of characteristics that are common among newborns, to help you decide whether your baby is in the normal range, or you should consult your pediatrician.
Healthy, Full-Term Newborns May Be Chubby or Thin
Your baby may have been born a little on the chubby side, or he or she may look slender. An average-sized baby may weigh between 7 pounds and 7 pounds, 8 ounces; average height is between 18 and 21 inches. However, normal, healthy babies can be bigger or smaller than these numbers.
Newborns Keep Their Hands, Arms and Legs Folded a Lot
For the first several weeks of life, you may see that your baby tends to keep his or her hands clenched, elbows and knees bent. This position is similar to the fetal position in which your baby spent the last few months inside the uterus, and it is normal.
Baby Has Bowed Legs
Newborns usually have bowed legs, from having been in a curled-up position for months inside the uterus. Your baby’s legs will probably stay bowed until he or she starts to walk, at which time the leg bones and muscles will be stimulated to change their curvature and get straight.
Similarly, baby’s feet may turn slightly inward or outward; this, too, is normal and will self-correct once he or she starts standing, then walking. You can help your baby by gently straightening his or her feet, and by supporting baby as he or she stands on your lap once they’re a few months old; this will help encourage your infant to straighten out the legs.
If you have any questions about your baby’s gait, bring it up with your pediatrician at a well-baby visit.
Baby Has Bluish Feet or Hands
t is common for newborns to have blue feet or hands off and on for the first few days after birth, as the infant’s circulatory system matures. But tell your doctor anyway, to rule out any serious conditions.
Baby’s Skin Looks Yellowish (Jaundiced)
Most babies (60 percent of term infants, and 80 percent of preemies) develop “jaundice” within 3 to 4 days after birth. It usually goes away after a week; but tell your doctor if your baby looks yellow, to insure it won’t progress to something more serious.
Baby’s Eyes Are Crossed
A newborn’s eyes may take up to eight weeks to stay straight; the eyes may also be bloodshot from the pressure of coming out through the vagina. As for the baby’s eye color, you won’t know for sure until he or she is about 6 months to a year old. (Source: WebMD.)
Many newborns will have puffy eyes for several days after they’re born. This is nothing to worry about and will go away on its own.
Baby Seems “Moody” — Happier Some Days and Fussier on Others
This is normal among infants, as they are a lot like us grown-ups. As long as you are feeding your baby enough and keeping him or her comfortable, fussiness here and there is nothing to worry about.
But if you find that your baby cries a lot for no apparent reason, and you’ve done all you can think of to calm them, without success, it will be best to take the baby to the doctor, to rule out possible health problems.
In addition, one common condition affecting a percentage of young babies, which may make them cry inexplicably for hours at a time, is colic, which they outgrow eventually, and which can be treated with homeopathic, chemical-free remedies.
Something else to consider that many parents may not realize is that just like light disrupts our adult sleep, it does that to an infant’s sleep also. Babies sleep a lot, of course, and it may be tempting to have your infant in a well-lit space when they are sleeping, so as to make it easier to check on them and so forth. However, it will be better to make sure your baby’s sleeping space is fairly dark, which will promote more restful sleep for your little one. A better rested baby will be a happier baby.
Further, it’s always good to remind new moms that, whereas back in the 1950’s and later, some doctors used to tell women not to hold or cradle their babies too much because it would “spoil” them, the modern thinking is that parents should not limit how much time they hold and cradle their infants. The more you hold your baby, talk to him or her and show them love, the more you will instill in them a sense of security and well-being. This could also translate into a happier, calmer baby.
Beyond the above points, if you find that your newborn
You may notice a “rattling” sound when your baby breathes; if there are no other symptoms, this rattling is probably not a cold. Your newborn may just need a little help expelling excess mucus that accumulates inside the nose. This mucus can be removed with a nasal suction bulb.
Sneezing and Hiccups
Periodic sneezing and hiccuping are common among babies and they do not indicate that there is a cold or allergies or stomach upset. In the case of hiccups, it likely means your baby took in too much air when he or she drank milk, or drank too fast.
Spit-ups are common in newborns. In the first few days after birth, your baby may spit up because of extra fluid and mucus in his or her stomach. Some babies will also spit up a little milk during feedings in their first few months of life. This is nothing to become concerned about.
However, if your infant’s spitting is consistently forceful (“projectile”), this may signal a serious digestive problem, and you should talk to your pediatrician right away.
If you think your diet or the baby’s formula may need to be changed, do this in consultation with your pediatrician, to insure that you and your baby will continue to get all the necessary nutrients.
Baby Has Small White Bumps or Red Spots on Skin
Your newborn may have white bumps on the nose or cheeks, or red spots on different parts of his or her body, or even acne. These skin conditions usually clear up by themselves and are no cause for worry.
If your baby has any rash that concerns you, or is also sick or has a fever, contact your pediatrician. Sometimes, such conditions can be adverse reactions to vaccines, and your doctor should be told about them.
Many newborns have what looks like dandruff or yellow, crusty patches on their heads; these may also appear on the ears, eyebrows or eyelids. Dry, flaky skin is common for several weeks after birth.
The cause for cradle cap is unknown; you can improve the skin’s appearance by gently massaging your baby’s scalp with your fingers, by gently scrubbing affected areas with a wash cloth, warm water and a gentle shampoo or soap (be sure to rinse off completely), and by brushing baby’s scalp with a very soft brush.
To naturally moisturize your newborn’s skin, try applying a little coconut oil on it, which soothes the skin and does not have any odor.
Baby’s Soft Spots on Head Bulge When Infant Cries
Your newborn has two soft spots, or fontanelles, on the head: a bigger fontanel toward the front of the top of the head, and a smaller one near the back. These openings in the baby’s skull, covered by a tough membrane, serve two functions: allowing the big head to move through the birth canal, and giving the brain space to grow rapidly in the first few months, as it will do.
The smaller fontanel will close in about 6 months, and the bigger one can take 12 to 18 months to close completely. It is perfectly normal to see these spots bulge when your baby is crying; however, if you notice them bulging when the infant is not crying, tell your doctor.
Baby Loses a Little Weight in the First Week
It is not uncommon for newborns to lose 6 to 8 ounces during their first week of life; babies who weighed more at birth may lose even more. Once they start putting on weight, they should gain 4 to 7 ounces a week for the first few weeks, then 1 pound or a little more for the first 6 months. (Source: WebMD.) Babies are born with enough fluid and fat to sustain them until a regular feeding routine is established; but if you have any concerns, check with your doctor.
The best way to insure your baby is getting enough to eat is to time the feedings: breastfed babies will nurse every 2 to 3 hours during the first few weeks; formula-fed infants will need feeding every 3 to 4 hours.
As the first few weeks of your newborn’s life are a busy time, keeping track of feedings helps give you structure until you learn to pick up on your baby’s hunger cues.
Another way to measure if your newborn is getting enough to eat is to count the number of dirty diapers: most newborns have 6 or more wet diapers a day, and 2 or more bowel movements.
Baby’s Stools Are Black
An infant’s first stools will be almost black or a dark olive green; after that, they should be yellow-green. If stools continue to be black (and baby is not taking any medicines or supplements), or they’re red or white, tell your baby’s doctor.
If you breastfeed your baby, the stools should be a light mustard color; if baby drinks formula, they will be darker. It is okay if stool color or consistency changes now and then. Hard or dry stools may indicate that your little one needs more to drink.
Straining with Bowel Movements
If your baby gets red in the face or looks like he or she is having difficulty passing a bowel movement, this is normal, and many infants do it. As long as the stools are soft, there is not a problem.
Baby Has Difficulty Nursing
Not all newborns take to nursing with ease, and you may have to help your baby get the hang of it in the beginning.
Here are some tips to help your infant latch on:
- Bring baby’s mouth to your breast
- Use your finger to spread baby’s lips, if needed
- See that baby’s lips form a seal around the nipple or areola
- Baby’s tongue should be under the nipple
- If you feel pain for a few seconds at the beginning, it should soon lessen; if it doesn’t, stop feeding for a moment and try again
- Ask your doctor for help if you or your baby are having difficulty with feedings
Swollen or Lumpy Breasts and Vaginal Bleeding in Newborns
Male and female babies both can have swelling of their breast tissue. Female babies can also have bloody discharge from their vaginas during their first week of life. These conditions are the result of stimulation of tissues by the mother’s hormones during late pregnancy and birth; they will go away gradually after birth.
Female and male babies just days or weeks old can also on occasion develop lumps the size of marbles, or smaller, underneath their nipples; these are painless.
Sometimes, when a parent presses on the lumps, they will see a white, milky fluid come out of the nipple. This is due to rudimentary milk glands present in both boys and girls at birth, stimulated by the mother’s high levels of lactation hormones in late pregnancy. These hormonal effects in the baby go away after a few weeks and are no cause for concern.
Baby Gets Diaper Rash, Even with Careful Diapering
Even if you are conscientious about keeping your baby dry and clean, almost all babies will get diaper rash at some point. It occurs most often between 4 months and 15 months, and it becomes more noticeable when infants start eating solid foods.
Some factors that may cause diaper rash:
- Wet or moist diapers
- Soiled diapers
- Diapers that are too tight
- Frequent bowel movements
- Reactions to body soaps or laundry detergents (for babies with sensitive skin, it is best to use the mildest soaps available, and always choose fragrance-free)
Possible remedies for diaper rash include:
- Change diapers often
- Allow baby’s bottom to air-dry
- Apply a gentle diaper rash cream to affected area (opt for something natural, without harsh chemicals in it)
- Use loose-fitting diapers on baby
- Pat-dry instead of rubbing baby’s skin
- Try lightly sprinkling cleaned diaper area with corn starch; you can even buy organic, to avoid GMO’s. This is better than using scented baby powders, which have chemicals
- Limit or avoid using baby wipes that have chemicals, including artificial scents (instead, when changing wet diapers with no stool, try using washcloths with warm water only, and change / launder washcloths often)
Talk to your doctor if your baby’s rash lasts longer than a few days or if baby develops sores on affected area.
By Cynthia Sanchez. A graduate of the University of Washington, Cynthia has extensive experience writing about health and wellness topics for different media.