Eek! Why does my newborn look like that?

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Photo by Jonathan Borba on Unsplash
Photo by Jonathan Borba on Unsplash

Ever heard the expression "a face only a mother can love"?

This is often true about your newborn, who's effectively been swimming in a bath for nine months and then squeezed out of a tiny tunnel, after all.

At birth, your baby may not look as angelic as you expected.

Here are the reasons why your newborn looks the way he or she does but rest assured that no matter how wrinkly, pink and mucky your newborn may be at birth, in no time you'll think your baby's the most beautiful thing you have ever laid your eyes on.

Face:

Be prepared for marks, bruises and scrapes if instruments, such as forceps, were used to deliver your baby. These marks will fade. Many babies are born with birthmarks of varying sizes and colours.

Strawberry marks and spider veins usually disappear in childhood and others will need treatment to help them go away. Some, usually the darker brown birthmarks, are permanent.

Head:

Initially, your baby's head may look cone shaped. It may appear slightly elongated and moulded. But this normalises over time. Compared to the rest of your baby's body, the head looks quite large.

Hands:

Your baby's hands may be bluish, wrinkled and pulled up to the face in a tight fist.

Eyes:

Your baby's eyelids may be puffy and bloodshot from the pressure experienced during labour. This swelling is completely normal for someone who has been soaking in amniotic fluid for nine months and then pushed out of the birth canal.

It'll take a few days for the swelling to subside. The colour of white babies' eyes are often, but not always, a deep blue or slate colour, regardless of what colour they become as they get older. Black babies' eyes are usually brown at birth.

Genitals:

Due to the hormones that pass to your baby in utero, your newborn girl may be born with swollen vulva and breasts and have a light vaginal discharge and slight bleeding. Your newborn boy's testes may also be swollen due to the fluid that's squeezed into his scrotum during birth. The swelling will typically disappear within two to four weeks. Vaginal discharge lasts only a few days.

Skin:

Many newborn babies are born with a layer of fine, downy hair, called lanugo, over their ears, shoulders and back. It's completely normal and usually disappears within a few days. Preemies will have a lot more, and post-date babies usually don't have any. Most newborns are also born covered in a white, waxy substance called vernix. Both lanugo and vernix protect babies' skin against long exposure to amniotic fluid and help keep them warm.

At birth, most babies' skin appears pink, pale or even greyish – even if it eventually turns brown – as pigmentation doesn't show up until exposure to sunlight.

Umbilical cord:

At birth, your baby's umbilical cord, which looks like a long, white, twisted and sinewy rope, will be clamped with a flat peg-like tool. The cord will then usually be cut within five minutes of birth to form the cord stump.

As the umbilicus heals and the stump begins to dry out, it will slowly turn brown and fall off. This usually takes about 10 days to two weeks after birth. Never attempt to pull off the cord, even if it looks like it's hanging by a little thread. Be sure to clean the stump every time you change baby.

Hair:

Got hair? Not for long. The hair on your newborn baby's head usually falls out and is replaced by permanent hair at about six months. It might even be a different colour.

Arms and legs:

Your newborn's arms and legs will be rather short at birth compared to the rest of the baby's body.

Feet:

Babies' feet are often bluish, which is also completely normal for the first few days after birth. Their feet may be a bit turned in, and their toes may overlap each other in a frog-like pose. 

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