In the movies, the delivery scene usually starts with a mother-to-be in full make-up as her husband lovingly sits at her side. After a few grunts and groans, and with hair still perfectly in place, the doctor hands over a beautiful baby, clean-scrubbed and cooing for the new parents. In real life, babies have a puffed up face like they just came from a fist fight, are bluish in color and are covered in a creamy bloody goop, nothing like what you see on television.
Your baby has been living in a mushed up space, inside liquid and was just forcibly removed from this “home”. He or she has just undergone trauma and will need some time to adjust to life in the open air. As the baby gets over the trauma they went through during birth, their facial features change quite a bit. Flattened noses, crooked jaws and folded ears which are common during childbirth will normalize after a few days.
Some newborns open their eyes, while others may not be able to right away. This is because of puffiness in the face. Babies have a ‘dolls eyes reflex’ which means they tend to open their eyes when held upright. Try it if your baby has not opened their eyes yet.
A few babies may have blood red eyes which scare most first time parents. This is known as subconjunctival hemorrhage and happens during delivery. It is similar to a skin bruise and will go away after a few days.
During the first few weeks, your baby will usually have their fists clenched, knees bent, elbows flexed and arms close to the chest. This is the position they have been in for the past few months. It takes a while for them to realize they are free and have lots of room to move. Infants born prematurely display a different posture.
Babies are born with instinctual responses to touch and light known as primitive reflexes. These include:
- Suckling reflex; the infant will suck on any object put in its mouth
- Grasp reflex; newborns will tightly close their fingers over anything in their hands
- Moro reflex, also known as the startle reflex; this causes the baby to suddenly throw their arms and feet when startled by bright lights or loud noises.
Fingernails may be long enough to scratch so trim them carefully. Your baby’s feet and legs may be curved, remember the position they have been in for the past few months; they will naturally move into a walking position but you can help this along.
Newborns spend most of their time sleeping and new mothers usually become particularly concerned over their children’s breathing habits. Newborns breathe somewhat irregularly. It is common for your child to stop breathing for 5 seconds or more, then start up again. This is called periodic breathing.
When awake their breathing may vary widely especially after crying.
The head is the most affected by the delivery process. The skull of a newborn is made up of separate parts with a hole in the center. This separation helps the baby to travel out of the birth canal. The skull will eventually fuse together.
The heads of babies who have been delivered normally usually have some form of overlap making the head look pointy after birth. This bizarre appearance will normalize after several days as the skull bones correct themselves to form a more rounded shape. Babies delivered through c-sections do not have this molding.
Because of the skull separations, babies have soft spots on their heads known as fontanels. These bulge out when the baby cries and can be very alarming. They also pulse due to the blood vessels under the skin.
The umbilical cord
Care and appearance of the umbilical cord is a cause of concern for most parents. Three blood vessels encased in a jelly-like substance make up the cord. It is tied off then cut to separate the baby from the placenta. The remaining stump usually withers and falls off after 10 days to 3 weeks.
You may have to swab it with alcohol periodically to prevent infection if it gets dirty. The baby should not be submerged in water until the cord falls off. It changes from yellow to brown to black then falls off.
A little bleeding is normal after the cord falls but if your baby’s navel area is red or smells foul, call your doctor immediately.
In girls, a vaginal discharge sometimes accompanied by blood may be noted. This mini-period is the result of the mother’s estrogen starting to dissipate from the baby. In boys, the scrotum usually bulges for up to 6 months.
The first few weeks of life with a newborn can be terrifying but is a time of great joy and delight for most parents.
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First published at kidshealth.org