Newborn: What they look like and what they can do
The information given below provides an overview of newborn characteristics to help you have a better understanding of your baby's qualities.
The Appearance of a Newborn
- The average full-term baby weighs 7-1/2 pounds and is 20 inches in length. A baby's head usually appears to be large in proportion to the rest of her body. Your newborn's head may be long and narrow from pressure during the labour and birth. It returns to a normal shape within a few days. Her scalp may also be bruised and swollen, but this will also disappear in time. Sometimes a newborn's nose is misshapen and her eyelids are puffy from the birth experience.
- Babies are born with two soft spots (fontanels) on their head. One is at the top, and one is at the back. These spots are where the bones of the skill still have to join. By six months of age, the small spot at the back of your baby's head will join, but the larger spot at the front of his head will take up to 18 months. Both soft spots are covered by a thick and tough membrane that provides protection.
- Your baby's body may be covered with a fine downy hair called lanugo. This will disappear during the first few weeks. Immediately at birth, your baby's skin may be grayish blue, wet and covered in a white creamy fluid called vernix. Once your baby begins breathing, his skin returns to normal tones. Many babies have various skin conditions that are short lasting. On his face, your baby may have small white spots, called milia, due to clogged sweat and oil glands. Or some babies may have peeling skin. You may also see areas on your baby's skin that redden when he cries. This is typical of overdue babies, and eventually disappears without any treatment. None of these conditions normally require treatment.
- Newborns are born with or without a full head of hair. Cradle cap, a yellowish, scaly, patchy condition found on the scalp or behind the ears sometimes appears during the first three months. Daily washing and brushing will help it to disappear.
- Many newborn babies will be unable to produce tears until about three weeks of age. Your baby's eye color at birth may change during the first six months.
- At birth, some babies have swollen breasts or genitals. This can occur in both male or female babies, and is due to hormones passed to them from the mother. These conditions are normal, and will disappear over time.
The Baby's Senses
Newborns have a tremendous capacity to use their senses to communicate, learn about the world around them and tell us their needs. All of a baby's senses are working when she is born.
- The touch of skin-to-skin for almost all babies is enjoyable and important for her development. Skin-to-skin contact will comfort and relax a newborn. The skin of a newborn is very sensitive to texture, moisture, pressure and temperature. Most of the time, newborns will keep their hands fisted, but will respond to the feeling of an object on their palm by grasping on to it. Stroke and massage your baby frequently.
- In the early days, many newborns will "squint" their eyes, but this disappears gradually as babies gains muscle control around their eyes. Sometimes babies look cross-eyed. A newborn is able to focus on objects 7 to 10 inches away (20cm to 25cm) - the perfect distance between a baby and his caregiver during a feeding. Young babies prefer to look at human faces. During the first few weeks, they will show an interest in complex patterns and objects that move slowly. It is important to place things within 7 to 10 inches away (20cm to 25cm), since anything outside of this distance will appear blurry to your baby.
- Newborns will respond to smells. In fact, within a few hours after birth, babies know the smell of their mothers, and mothers can tell their own babies by smell. Newborns can tell the difference between the smell of their own mother's breast milk and that of someone else. Similarly, their taste preferences are also emerging. Babies will react to sweet, sour, salty and bitter tastes, although they generally show a preference for sweeter tastes. Smell is the quickest of all the senses to develop, and lasts the longest into old age.
- Infants hear and react to sound, even before they are born. While inside the womb, your baby heard his mother's heartbeat, her voice and other sounds. At birth, babies are tuned into the human voice. For some babies, those familiar sounds will be soothing (such as the sound of a dishwasher, washing machine, hair dryer or certain music). Newborns will also respond with a startle to loud and unfamiliar sounds.
- Babies are born with many reflexes. A reflex is a reaction meant to help a baby adjust to the world outside the womb. Some of these will disappear as your baby develops. Yawning, quivering, hiccups, stretching and crying are some of the reflexes you will see in the first few days. These behaviours are reflexive, because your baby cannot control most of her movements.
- Other visible reflexes that you may see during the early months include coughing, sneezing and blinking. Many of these are protective reflexes. A baby will cough to help move mucus or fluid in his airway. Other reflexes are "startle" reflexes that occur when a baby is surprised. Your baby may wave his arms or legs in the air, or arch his body.
- Other reflexes are "survival" reflexes, but are also cues for parents to watch. These include the sucking and swallowing reflexes that enable a baby to eat. The rooting reflex, which is most visible when a baby is hungry, is seen when her cheek is touched. A baby will turn toward touch with an open mouth, searching for food.