After Pregnancy: The First Look at a Typical Newborn

By Mathew Miller, Sharon Perkins

Newborns don’t look anything like the smooth-skinned, dimpled, smiling babies on TV, so be prepared as a new dad. A new baby emerges from nine months in a dark, watery environment, and her skin shows it. She squints like she’s just emerged from a cave.

Although your newborn may not look exactly like the baby in your idealized dreams, she’ll look perfect to you — at least after you get used to her in a day or two.

What should you expect when your newborn is put into your arms for the first time? Not the Gerber baby, that’s for sure — although your baby will be, your partner will assure you, the most beautiful creature she’s ever seen. You may seriously wonder about her taste in human beings because newborn babies have the following characteristics:

  • Small: The average baby is around 7 pounds and 20 inches long. The reality of how small and fragile a newborn is won’t hit you until you hold him.

  • Red and covered with — what’s that white stuff? Newborns are amazingly red. They come out a dark red and then turn a lighter red, which gradually fades to a normal skin color over a few days. Many newborns are coated, especially in the creases, with vernix, a creamy substance that protected baby’s skin in mom’s amniotic fluid.

  • Wrinkled and peeling: Because he just spent nine months immersed in water, baby’s entire skin has the equivalent look of dishpan hands, and as soon as he begins to dry out, his skin wrinkles because it’s no longer waterlogged. His skin will crack and peel, especially around bendable joints such as the ankles and wrists.

  • Cone-headed: You thought the Coneheads weren’t real — until you met your new baby. If your partner pushed for any amount of time or if the baby was delivered by vacuum extraction, his head may be pointed at the back or he may have a little cone cup, like a jaunty little hat, to the side of his head. His head will become round in a week or so.

    Cesarean babies usually escape the cone-head look.

  • Spotted, dotted, and blotched: Newborns often have a variety of blotches, splotches, whiteheads, and other marks that fade over time. Milia look like little whiteheads on the baby’s nose, chin, and forehead. Don’t squeeze these; they’ll disappear on their own.

    The majority of black, Indian, and Asian babies have what look like black and blue marks on their legs or buttocks, called Mongolian spots, which fade with time. Red blotches on the back of the neck, eyelids, and between the eyes, called stork bites, are immature blood vessels that also disappear with time.

  • Not very well put together: Newborns often seem like they may fall apart if a strong wind comes along. Their heads wobble alarmingly, and their arms and legs shoot off in all directions when they’re startled. No wonder nurses wrap them up tight in blankets.

  • A bit, uh, out of proportion: You may be saying, “That’s my boy!” but baby boys may have overlarge genitals due to fluid retention, trauma during delivery, and hormonal influences. This condition is temporary, so don’t get overly excited. Girls often have swollen genitalia as well, but it’s less noticeable. Also, girls may pass a few drops of blood from the vagina. Hormones cause this somewhat disconcerting event also.

  • Swollen breasts: Because of maternal hormones, both baby boys and girls often have swollen breasts that may actually produce a few drops of milk. This condition disappears within a few days

  • May have no family resemblance: Before you start getting suspicious that the baby isn’t yours, rest assured that many newborns look slightly Asian, even if their parents aren’t.

    Puffiness and swelling around the eyes make them appear Asian, and the yellow tinge of jaundice that many babies have after the first day or two may have you convinced that someone has a lot of explaining to do. The puffiness will improve daily, and by the end of the week, you won’t be able to stop telling everyone how much the baby looks like you.