What a newborn really looks like

Do you wonder what your newborn baby will look like? Some physical features of newborns can surprise people who've only seen these tiny babies in the movies or magazines.

Being born affects how a baby looks. Pregnancy and birth can cause a baby's skin, face, arms and legs, or genitals to look different than you might expect.

Your healthcare team will examine the newborn just after the baby is born as well as before you take your baby home. If you have any questions, make sure to ask a person on your healthcare team.

Every baby is different, but here's a peek at some real newborns so that you know what to expect.

Your newborn's eyes

As a baby goes through the birth canal, pressure on the face can cause the baby's eyelids to look puffy or swollen. This swelling should go down over a day or two after birth.

Sometimes right after birth, a baby's eyes seem cross-eyed, meaning they look more toward the baby's nose. As your baby's eye muscles strengthen over time, this cross-eyed condition usually gets better.

Also, a baby's eye color may not be set at birth. You might notice your baby's eye color changing over the first six months.

Newborn's puffy eyes

Your newborn's head

An infant's skull bones can shift and overlap. This allows a baby to move through the birth canal. In general, being in labor for a long time means a baby's head might be more cone shaped than a baby who experienced a shorter labor.

A baby's head also may look taller if tools such as a vacuum extractor were used in the birth. In the few days after birth, the cone shape usually becomes rounder. Babies born buttocks or feet first or by C-section are more likely to have round heads at birth.

A newborn's cone-shaped head

A newborn's soft spots

There are two soft areas at the top of your baby's head where the skull bones haven't yet grown together. These spots, called fontanels, allow for the skull to reshape as needed to pass through the birth canal. Later, these areas provide the space needed by a baby's rapidly growing brain. These areas can look like bumps or dents in the baby's scalp. You might notice these spots pulsing when your baby cries or strains.

Fontanels are covered by a thick fibrous layer. The larger soft spot is a diamond shape about the size of a quarter coin. This is about an inch in diameter (about 2.5 centimeters). The smaller soft spot is at the back of the head. That area is about the size of a dime. This is just over half an inch (1.79 centimeters).

Fontanels are safe to touch and typically close when the skull bones fuse together by age 2 years old.

A newborn's head

Your newborn's umbilical cord

The umbilical cord attaches the baby to the placenta during pregnancy. After the baby is born, a healthcare professional will clamp the cord close to the baby's body.

The stump of a newborn's umbilical cord is usually a yellow-green color at birth.

The clamped bit of umbilical cord will dry out over a few weeks after birth. It will change in color to brown and then to black. It typically falls off around 1 to 3 weeks after birth.

In the meantime, caregivers should keep the stump clean and dry. Fold your baby's diaper under the stump so that air can help dry out the base. Stick to sponge baths while the area is healing. There's no need to swab the stump with rubbing alcohol.

A newborn's umbilical cord stump

Your newborn's skin

After birth, babies can have all sorts of spots, rashes, bruises or blotches. Dry, peeling skin is typical in newborns, especially on hands and feet in the first few weeks. The top layer of skin is usually flaky in the first weeks after birth. Daily moisturizing can help keep your baby comfortable.

You might notice white bumps on your newborn's face that look like tiny pimples. These harmless spots, known as milia, typically disappear on their own. Don't try and pinch these bumps, scrub your baby's face, or use lotions or oils on milia. Mild soap and water once a day usually helps clear up milia over time, usually in a few weeks.

Your newborn's skin also might be covered by fine, downy hair at birth. This is known as lanugo. It can be found especially on the back and shoulders and is most common in premature babies. It typically wears off within several weeks.

Other skin marks that caregivers may see on a newborn are bruises on a baby's head from the mother's pelvis. If tools were used during birth, such as forceps, the baby may have a scrape or bruise. These marks generally should all go away within about two weeks.

Small bumps on a newborn baby's face

Your newborn's birthmarks

Birthmarks are areas of skin that are present at birth or develop later. Some are permanent and some fade as a child grows.

They can range from blue-gray to brown to red in color. A common birthmark is called a salmon patch. This is a pink to red patch at the back of a newborn's neck, on the eyelids or forehead, or between the baby's eyes.

Salmon patch birthmarks are sometimes nicknamed stork bites or angel kisses. These marks tend to get brighter during crying.

Some marks disappear in a few months, while others fade over a few years or persist. Marks at the back of the neck usually last longer than marks on the face.

Babies of African or Asian ethnicity may be born with birthmarks that are flat, blue-green or blue-gray marks typically found on the lower back or buttocks. Sometimes these marks are mistaken for bruises. But, in general, this type of mark fades during early childhood.

Salmon patch birthmark

Your newborn's breasts and genitals

As the pregnant body prepares for birth and breastfeeding, some hormones can cross the placenta. These hormones can affect a newborn.

Babies may have swollen breast tissue at birth, and this tissue may produce a fluid.

Vaginal tissue may be swollen, or newborns may have a harmless vaginal discharge for a few weeks after birth.

The loose skin that holds the testes, called the scrotum, may be swollen. The swelling may be caused by hormones or the pressure in the birth canal, especially if a baby is born feet first, called breech.

The swelling is due to fluid in the scrotum, a condition called hydrocele. Typically, this fluid will be reabsorbed over time.

Right after birth, a healthcare professional will examine your baby and talk with you about any concerns. If you have questions then or later, ask your baby's healthcare professional.


Your first look at your newborn

Every baby is different. But in general, newborns look wrinkly. And they may be damp or even a bit bloody.

At birth, a baby's legs and feet might look bowed or bent. This is because of the lack of space in the uterus. You can expect the baby's legs to straighten on their own as the baby grows and starts to move around.

Your healthcare professional will do a full examination of the baby and explain the findings. Be sure to ask any questions you may have.

No matter how the baby looks, your baby is born ready to be cared for and held. If everyone is healthy, your healthcare team may put your baby right on your chest for skin-to-skin contact. Some caregivers immediately feel a bond. Others are too exhausted or overwhelmed. Not everyone feels the same way. Caregivers can expect their feelings to grow over time.

Nov. 10, 2023 See more In-depth