What will your baby look like at birth?
Cute? No, probably not. Sorry!
Pretty much everything they show on TV and in movies about birth and newborn babies is very wrong. Birth almost never happens like that, and babies don’t look like that as soon as they’re born. They use babies that are at least a couple of months old to play newborns in the movies. They’ve gotten over the worst of the newborn weirdness by then. There are some people who look at their newborn baby and think they are absolutely beautiful. Others of us (me included!) look at our newborn baby and think, “That can’t be mine! What’s wrong with it?!?!” Luckily, the answer is almost always, “nothing”. Your baby might not look healthy and fine, but they are!
How long will my baby be ugly?
Luckily, they start to get cute pretty quickly. A lot of the strangeness comes from being fresh out of the womb. They have been waterlogged for nine months. They have stuff all over them that has been protecting their tender skin.
Babies also get pretty squished during a vaginal birth, and that can leave some marks. Within a few hours, most babies will start to look a little more normal. This does not mean they will look completely normal in every way though. They do look better pretty quickly and we can stop worrying.
Unfortunately, most of the time weird conditions and behaviors will keep coming up for the next couple of months! By the time babies are about three months old, they should look like the cute babies we see on TV and out in the world. Most of us haven’t seen brand new babies. Most newborns don’t get out much, and when they do they might be all bundled up and in blankets. We don’t get to see the truth of newborn ugliness until we have our own.
What can I expect right after birth?
There are a lot of things we might see when a baby is first born that usually go away pretty quickly. There is a lot of variation. Depending on how quickly and easily the baby was born, the baby’s natural skin tone, and how long the baby was in there, you may or may not see some of these attributes:
- Blue, gray, or other weird skin colors – Until a baby is breathing well and has good blood oxygen saturation, their skin tone might be sort of pale or bluish. This usually improves within minutes. Once the baby is breathing well, the skin tone might STILL not look normal; it depends on the baby’s natural skin tone. Some babies will look pink, others might look bright red, or even purple! I have a darker olive skin tone, and my first baby was a very deep red color. It was pretty shocking! My second baby was mostly purple. I didn’t expect this, but I was reassured that they were normal and healthy. Their skin tone changed gradually over the next few hours and looked a lot more normal by the next day.
- Swollen face/eyes – A lot of babies will have a swollen face or swollen face and eyes. I remember thinking it looked like my daughter had gone a few rounds in a boxing ring! My son did not look very swollen at all. When a baby spends time in the birth canal, they get a little squished and this can cause some swelling. My son was born very quickly, so he was not as swollen. Also, babies tend to be a little swollen because they were submerged in water all those months!
- Hair – Some babies look very hairy when they’re born. It’s a soft fuzz that might cover a lot of their body. This is called lanugo. All babies have it in the womb to help protect their skin. A lot of it falls off before they are born. When a baby is born on the early side, they may have a lot more lanugo than a baby born later. Most of this body hair will fall off over the next few days and weeks.
- Skin goo – Babies are born with some goo on their skin. Some will have a little, others will have a lot more. Some of this is blood. It is very normal for the baby to have some of your blood on their skin. You might be bleeding for a number of reasons. It could be that you experienced some tearing on your baby’s way out. There is also blood in the uterus that needs to come out and will continue to come out vaginally over the next few weeks. This is completely normal and nothing to be worried about, although it might look sort of gruesome. They are also born with some white waxy stuff on their skin. This is called vernix. It is there to protect their skin from getting too waterlogged in the womb. The common practice now is to leave it on them or rub it in because it’s good for them!
- Swollen genitals – Your baby might have swollen breasts, labia, and/or scrotum. This can be shocking if you don’t expect this, but it’s very normal. This can be caused by exposure to hormones and also just the birth process.
- Cone head – Babies can be born with a misshapen head, and it’s most always cone-shaped. A newborn baby’s skull is not fused together yet so that it can mold to fit the birth canal for easier birth. The skull bones are actually multiple separate plates that can overlap each other as the baby’s head is squished and descending through the birth canal. This will normalize pretty quickly and your baby will have a nice round head soon!
- Crossed eyes – Newborns often have crossed eyes, but that’s nothing to worry about. Babies don’t see all that well at first and have a hard time focusing on things that are at certain distances, so they will look cross-eyed sometimes.
- Birthmarks – Some birthmarks are subtle and stay with you for life. Others are caused by birth and will go away with time. A lot of babies are born with red splotches or dark spots that will eventually fade and go away. Sometimes these are really big and dramatic.
What can I expect later?
Newborns do start looking cuter pretty quickly after birth, BUT then other stuff might start to happen. For the first three months or so, you’ll probably notice a lot of big changes, and some of those might look weird or even hideous. They are technically newborns until three months old, so just hang in there! Whatever it is, it’s probably normal and nothing to worry about. A lot of parents are taken by surprise when their baby doesn’t have perfect baby skin or they start to notice these other strange characteristics or behaviors:
- Dry, flaky skin – Babies will lose a layer of skin after they’re born. Remember they were soaking in fluid for a very long time, so it makes sense that the top layer would need to come off. There is no need to provide extra moisture or lotion if you don’t want to. It will stop once that layer is gone, especially if you don’t use drying soaps or shampoos.
- Yellow skin – Jaundice is a condition that babies are sometimes born with, but some develop it a little later on. This is usually just called breast milk jaundice and will go away if you continue to breastfeed frequently. It can make your baby look very yellow or orange.
- Acne – Babies can get acne! My daughter had breast milk jaundice and acne at the same time. She was a little bit ugly. Of course, by that time we were so in love with her that we hardly noticed. However, we didn’t print any pictures from that time! The jaundice went away after a few days. The acne was much better after a couple of weeks, and then she was REALLY adorable.
- Jerky movements and gestures – A newborn doesn’t have a whole lot of control over their body yet. Their arms and legs might flail around awkwardly. They might scratch themselves, hit themselves and you, wake themselves up with a big jerk of their arms. I like to imagine that some of this is just that they are using their little muscles and getting the hang of NOT being in water and crowded. Some movements are actually special reflexes that only newborns have. These are a couple of the more common and cute reflexes that newborns have and then LOSE once they get a little older:
- The Moro Reflex – This is what we’re seeing when a baby is falling asleep and their arms start to relax down, but then they startle awake and jerk their arms forward like they’re trying to grab hold of something. They are! Humans and other primates historically tended to hold their babies A LOT, and babies are born with the instinct to not be dropped or fall out of a tree.
- The Rooting Reflex – Babies will open their mouths wide like they are ready to eat when the side of their cheek is rubbed. Even if a baby just ate and isn’t hungry anymore, they will respond that way. Babies need to eat OFTEN as newborns because their bellies are tiny and because at first we only have a very small amount of milk released at each feeding time. This reflex helps the baby and the parent remember to feed more often and to help the baby open wide to get a good latch.
- Rude faces – Newborns tend to make a lot of funny faces and sometimes they look a little rude! They don’t have much control over their facial expressions yet. They might make a face that looks like they are trying to poop, but then you don’t see anything in the diaper. Sometimes when they ARE pooping, the facial expressions can seem pretty intense and we wonder if there is a problem. It’s most likely just that pooping is a new and strange sensation and your baby is reacting to that. Sometimes they look very surprised or disgusted for no reason. They might smile and look very happy when passing gas. They might look very focused and determined, or suddenly stick out their tongues. It can be endlessly entertaining to watch a newborn baby make faces.
Whatever your newborn looks like or is doing in those early weeks, just remember that they do change very quickly and most things are nothing to worry about. I know that a lot of times we are not encouraged to do an internet search for health conditions, but when it comes to newborn weirdness, it might be worth a quick search just to ease your mind a little. Doing a search for “My baby has acne.”, will show you that this is a very common thing and you can stop worrying. Most things are like that, so a quick search can give you some peace of mind. If you are concerned, it’s definitely a great idea to call your pediatrician or family doctor. Babies have so many visits at first, that it might also make sense to just make a list of all the weird things you’re wondering about so you don’t forget to ask while you’re there for a check-up.