Beer + Bubs Perth presenter Kristin Beckedahl is an experienced doula and mother of two. If anyone knows what a “normal” newborn looks like, it’s her! Here’s a guide, especially for fathers, on what to look for on the day your baby is born… Fixing your eyes on your long-awaited newborn baby for the first time may bring a few surprises to a new dad. On the telly, babies come out looking rather clean, pink, and often the size of a one month old, but here’s what to really expect…
1. Your baby’s head may look misshapen and somewhat elongated (aka cone head). This is the result of the normal molding that happens as the baby navigates it way cleverly through the woman’s pelvis and birth canal. Within a day or two it naturally takes on a rounder shape on its own. In response to one dad’s question at a Beer + Bubs session in Perth: no, you do not need to massage or hand sculpt it! If the vacuum cup was used at the birth, expect a circular swelling and perhaps bruising of the scalp to hang around for about the same time. You may see and feel a pulsating spot on top of the baby’s head; rest assured its not the baby’s brain. This is known the ‘soft spot’, a diamond shape area just above the hairline, where the skull bones have not yet come together. Its covered a tough membrane so can be touched and washed gently.
2. Your baby’s face may resemble that of a champion boxer being swollen or puffy. Baby’s nose and ears may be flattened down a little too. These begin to bounce back into shape after a day or so. If the labour was on the fast side, there may be a little facial bruising which also sorts itself out.
3. Your baby’s mouth is often very busy. Most activity in newborns is centered around their mouth. Lovingly resembling a circus clown, they may open and close their mouth frequently and/or turn their head from side to side. This is an attempt to find something to latch onto; preferably a breast. They also poke their tongue in and out – this is also in readiness to take a full mouthful of breast, and amusing none the less.
4. Your baby may make sounds that resemble an animal. The first sound I heard from my newborn baby boy was that of a little lamb; ‘baaaa, baaaa’. Some consider the all mighty cry to win first prize, but some babies come into themselves with a little more subtlety; especially those born in water. Squeaks, gags, baas and splutters are your baby’s way of clearing the normal lung fluids up and out after the birth. Babies born via the vaginal route get a head start on this through the squeezing effect around their torso, and they finish it off usually on Mum’s chest. If your baby is born by Caesarean, they often need a little help with this by suctioning. A big cry does help clear those lungs a lot quicker, but every baby arrives in a different mood.
5. Your baby’s skin may be covered in a little or alot of vernix (aka the white goo). This served as a wetsuit in the womb keeping baby from becoming waterlogged. There is no reason to wash it off as the skin naturally drinks it in over the few hours after the birth. Its the best moisturiser known to man.
6. Your baby may look cross-eyed. This is normal and can also serve as entertainment. At birth, your baby’s eyes and eye muscles are learning to function in response to light and movement. They can at best see to a 30cm distance, albeit pretty out of focus. This is the perfect distance for mum and bub to gaze longingly whilst breastfeeding and also to take in Dad’s face and voice too. As the weeks roll on, the eye muscles get stronger and more symmetrical in their movements.
7. Your baby boy’s scrotum will look relatively large compared to the rest of him. This is the normal effects of the pregnancy hormones and won’t stay this way. Baby girls often have slightly swollen labia and breast tissue; again this gradually settles within the first week.
8. Your baby’s hand and feet may be mottled or slightly blue. It takes a few weeks for the baby to sort its body temperature systems out, so keep those toes warm with socks and make the most of skin to skin opportunities with Mum and Dad.
9. Your baby’s legs may look bowed. This is pure adaptation to the cramped conditions of the uterus. As the muscled strengthen and lengthen, the legs will slowly straighten themselves out over the weeks. The feet often looked turned-in. Again, this is normal and anything too extreme will be noticed by the midwife or paediatrician anyway.
10. Your baby may have a birthmark. About 1 in 3 babies with have one, with twice as many girls than boys being affected. Most don’t hurt the baby, cause health problems or need any treatment. There’s a few varieties and some creative names. ‘Stork bites’ are flat, pink patches that are collections of blood vessels under the skin. They usually crop up on or around the forehead, neck, nose or eyelids. Most take about a year to fade. ‘Strawberry marks’ first appear as tiny red dots and may increase in size up until the end of the first year. Half will fade by age 5, and disappear by age 10. ‘Mongolian spots’ are blue-toned splotches on 80% of the lower backs or bums of babies with dark skin tones (such as African Americans, Asians and Indian babies). These usually disappear by age 5 too. ‘Port-wine stains’ as the name suggests are the stubborn variety. With less than 1% in popularity, these tend to be permanent but can be sorted out later in childhood.
So there you have it, 10 newborn features to look out for, which may seem unusual, but are completely normal. Happy birthing!