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Basics About Your Newborn Baby’s Body

For the past 9 months, you’ve been getting ready for your baby’s arrival. But now that you’re bringing home your bundle of joy, you may feel a little anxious. How will you ever remember everything you learned about what to expect in those first few weeks? Even the best-prepared parents may be surprised by a few things that are quite normal in newborns. 

Birthmarks

These common spots and stains may be present at birth and are usually harmless. Many eventually disappear on their own: 

  • Stork bite (nevus flammeus.) This is seen on the forehead or on the back of the neck, or both. This mark almost always disappears as the child grows.

  • Mongolian spot (congenital dermal melanocytosis). This is a birthmark that may look like a bruise. It appears over the lower back and upper buttocks on darker pigmented babies. This spot frequently disappears by age 5 or 6.

  • Mole (congenital nevus). Moles don’t disappear and may grow larger over time.

  • Port wine stain. This is a red to purple mark that may appear anywhere on the body, but often on the face. This mark tends to grow larger over time.

Blood

It’s not uncommon to see a tiny bit of blood in your daughter’s diaper for the first couple of weeks. This tiny bit of vaginal bleeding happens when the baby adjusts to the lack of mother’s hormones once she’s out of the womb.  

Breasts

Mom’s hormones may cause baby’s breast tissue to grow slightly in both girls and boys. These lumps may last for a few months, but should then go away.  

Cord color

You’ve probably been told that your baby’s umbilical cord stump will fall off on its own. But, it will turn yellow and then brown or black first.

Odd movements

Newborns’ bodies are ruled by reflexes. So, your baby won’t be able to control most movements very well for the first few months. His or her chin, arms, or legs may seem shaky, especially when crying. 

Other skin problems

Rashes and other skin conditions are common in newborns. Here's a look at several:

  • Acne. Newborn acne or pimples can break out on the baby's face, usually around 2 to 3 weeks old. The cause is unknown, but it seems to be associated with maternal hormones that pass from the placenta to the baby during pregnancy. The acne may worsen by 1 month old but generally goes away without treatment. It may be helpful to gently wash the baby's face once a day with a mild soap to keep milk residue off the skin.

  • Cradle cap. Cradle cap looks like scaly white or yellow patches on the scalp. These patches are usually gone in a few months. In severe cases, the rash can spread onto the body, causing greasy red bumps. Removing the flakes from the scalp with a soft brush during bath time can help prevent it from worsening. 

  • Erythema toxicum. This is a reddish-colored rash with small yellowish-white raised bumps in the center. It may be seen on the face, trunk, legs, and arms. The rash may appear within the first couple of days after birth and last for about a week. It typically disappears without any treatment.

  • Milia. These tiny white bumps can appear on your baby's face. They will go away in a few weeks.

Rapid breathing

Healthy newborns average 40 breaths a minute. Adults take 12 to 18 breaths a minute. An infant’s breathing may pause for up to 10 seconds. Then, the baby starts breathing again.   

Soft spots

The 2 soft areas on your baby’s head are known as fontanelles. They will be there until the bones in the skull fuse together. When your child cries, they may bulge. The soft spots may pulse along with the baby’s heartbeat.  

If you feel your child is ill or if something just doesn’t seem right, call your healthcare provider.

Reducing the risk for SIDS and sleep-related deaths

Follow these tips to reduce the risk for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and sleep-related deaths from birth to age 1:

  • Get prenatal care. Routine prenatal care is important for reducing the risk for SIDS.

  • Breastfeed your baby. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends breastmilk only for at least 6 months. And the group recommends that you keep breastfeeding for a year or longer if you can.

  • Make sure your baby is immunized. A baby who is fully immunized is at lower risk for SIDS.

  • Babies should be placed on their back for sleep or naps. Babies should put down for all sleep on their back until age 1. This can reduce the risk for SIDS, aspiration, and choking. Babies should not be placed on their side or belly for sleep or naps. Babies should be given supervised time on their bellies to help develop strong belly and neck muscles. This will also help minimize flattening of the head that can happen when babies spend so much time on their backs.

  • Babies diagnosed with gastroesophageal reflux (GERD or heartburn) may need the head of their crib raised. Always talk with your baby's healthcare provider before doing this.

  • Offer babies a pacifier for sleeping or naps, if they aren’t breastfed. If breastfeeding, delay introducing pacifier until breastfeeding has been firmly established.

  • Use a firm mattress covered by a tightly fitted sheet to prevent gaps between the mattress and the sides of a crib, a play yard, or a bassinet. This can reduce the risk for entrapment, suffocation, and SIDS.

  • Share your room instead of your bed with your baby. Putting your baby in bed with you raises the risk for strangulation, suffocation, entrapment, and SIDS. Bed sharing is not recommended for twins or other higher multiples. Babies should sleep in the same room as their parents, close to their parent's bed, but in a separate bed or crib appropriate for infants. This sleeping arrangement is recommended ideally for the baby's first year, but should at least be maintained for the first 6 months.

  • Avoid using infant seats, car seats, strollers, carriers, and swings for routine sleep and daily naps. These may lead to blocking of an infant’s airway or suffocation.

  • Avoid placing infants on a couch or armchair for sleep. Sleeping on a couch or armchair puts the infant at much higher risk of death, including SIDS.

  • Don’t use illegal drugs, drink alcohol, or smoke during pregnancy or after birth. Keep your baby away from others who are smoking and areas where others smoke.

  • Avoid overdressing or covering babies face or head. This will prevent them from getting overheated, reducing the risks for SIDS.

  • Avoid using loose blankets or soft objects. Don't use bumper pads, pillows, comforters, or blankets in baby’s crib or bassinet. This helps prevent suffocation, strangulation, entrapment, or SIDS.

  • Avoid using cardiorespiratory monitors and commercial devices. Don't use wedges, positioners, or special mattresses to help decrease the risk for SIDS and sleep-related infant deaths. These devices have not been shown to prevent SIDS. In rare cases, they have led to the death of an infant. 

  • Always place cribs, bassinets, and play yards in hazard-free areas. To reduce the risk for strangulation, be sure there are no dangling cords, wires, or window coverings.

Online Medical Reviewer: Adler, Liora C., MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Dozier, Tennille, RN, BSN, RDMS
Date Last Reviewed: 1/1/2017
© 2000-2017 The StayWell Company, LLC. 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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