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Your Newborn's Appearance: Bumps, Bruises & Cone Heads

Katlyn Joy |20, May 2013


To understand the appearance of your newborn you first need to look where the baby's been hanging out the last several months. He's been floating in amniotic fluid. She's been cramped in a space that is so small at the end she can scarcely move, unlike the earlier weeks when she could flip and kick about like in her own private pool.

Then comes the first trip of the baby's life, and talk about a tight squeeze. It's no wonder baby comes out scowling, crying or appearing plain mystified.

Baby's Head

During birth, the bones of baby's skull will overlap and become compressed in order to fit through mom's pelvis and birth canal. Baby doesn't have fused bones in the skull as adults do. You've heard about baby's soft spots on the head? Those areas are where the bones are separated in the skull. Don't be scared about them. The anterior soft spot, or fontanel, will close by age 1 or perhaps 18 months while the posterior fontanel will close by four months of age.

This overlapping of bones causes molding. Molding results in a somewhat misshapen appearance to the head. Your baby may look rather alien-like, or like a cone head. Don't worry about finding hats for the rest of his life, though. This odd shape will most likely resolve itself in the first week.

Also, you may be surprised at how large baby's head seems compared to the rest of the body. Baby's noggin is 1/4 of her length.

Those baby's with perfectly round heads at birth? Those kids were c-sections or breech babies for certain!

Baby's Skin

When you first hold your baby, before his first bath, you'll notice a thick greasy white coating on him. That is the vernix which protected your baby from the amniotic fluid, a sort of waterproofing which actually is produced by baby's oil glands. Otherwise baby would come out of the womb looking like she'd spent nine months in the tub, all pruned and wrinkled.
Babies who are post-term don't usually have it, and for other babies the vernix requires no special care to remove it. It's mostly absorbed back into the skin.

Lanugo -- a fine, downy hair most common in preemies -- may be seen on face, shoulders and back. It typically disappears in the first several weeks of life.

Baby's Face

Is there anything more engaging than the eyes of a newborn baby? Even so, they may look swollen or puffy from the pressure of birth. After eye drops administered soon after being delivered, they may look watery as well. This won't take any time at all to improve into the hypnotic orbs we all love. Don't get too comfortable with the color of her eyes though. This won't be set until age one, as the melanin levels in the eyes is determined over time. All newborns have gray or blue eyes but the shades may be murkier or darker if they are going to have dark eyes later.

Depending on how long or rough the journey was, your baby may look bruised or beat up. No worries, that will straighten out quickly. Also, baby may have pink spots between the eyes, on the eyelids and the upper lip. The other spot is on the back of the neck and gives these spots their name, stork bites. The legend is that is the spot where the stork carried the baby.

Baby might have other blemishes on the complexion such as little white bumps called milia. These hard tiny bumps may appear on noses or other facial areas, and if they show up in the mouth they are called Epstein pearls. They are not precursors to teeth.

Other Interesting Newborn Characteristics

- A red rash over the body called erythema toxicum, which is also called flea bites. This rash occurs in the first few days and disappears just as quickly.

- In babies of color, up to 80 percent will have a darkly pigmented area typically on the lower back or buttocks. These spots usually disappear by the first birthday.

- Peeling skin can occur for the first few weeks. Don't worry it's not a skin condition.

- Oddly shaped or angled limbs or feet. Give them time to stretch out and straighten out.

- Swollen or leaking nipples are common in both boys and girls. Swollen genitalia are not unusual either. This is due to mom's hormones passing over to baby during the birth process. All will be right in a few days though.

Sources: Mayo Clinic Foundation, Lucile Packard Children's Hospital, National Institutes of Health

Katlyn Joy is a mother to 7 children, and a freelance writer. She earned her Master of Arts in Creative Writing and Poetry, and a Bachelor of Arts in English and was previously an adviser to new mothers on breastfeeding through a maternity home program. She currently resides in Colorado with her family.

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