Meeting your newborn for the first time

The moment you meet your newborn might be a little different to what you had anticipated. If you give birth vaginally, your baby will emerge from the womb bluish with a misshapen head and swollen eyes, bloodshot eyes, loudly announcing their arrival to all and sundry. Don’t worry, though – their little head and face will smooth out and take shape after a few weeks of life out of the cramped space inside the womb.

The physical traits your newborn may exhibit:

The baby’s head

The head is relatively large and measures one-fourth of your baby’s entire length. You can feel the soft spots, or fontanelles, on the skull where the skull bones are widely separated. Don’t worry though; the brain is covered by a tough membrane and scalp, so you won’t hurt your baby by gently touching these areas. The anterior fontanelle, located in the midline on top of the head, usually closes nine to 18 months after birth. Behind it is the smaller posterior fontanelle, which closes by four months of age.

The baby’s hair

Any amount of hair is normal and will vary from baby to baby. Most of this hair falls out and is replaced by new hair, the colour and texture of which may be quite different from that of the hair your infant was born with.

The baby’s body and skin

Your baby’s skin is very soft and red; the hands and feet may appear a little blue for a few days after birth, until their blood supply to the extremities improves. Baby’s body may be covered in downy hair (lanugo) which will also disappear within the first few weeks. The more premature a baby is, the more lanugo they have and the longer it will take to disappear.

There may also be a white, creamy almost waxy substance called vernix present in the folds and creases of the body. This served as “waterproofing” for your baby during the time spent in the fluid of the womb. Ideally, the vernix should be left to be absorbed by your newborn’s skin as it is very nourishing.

The baby’s eyes

The eyelids may be red and swollen from pressure during the delivery. Your baby can see for a short distance of about 25cm, but will not be able to focus too well. You may notice one eye wanders or the two eyes don’t move together smoothly. This is normal and is corrected as your baby gains strength and coordination of the eye muscles. Interestingly, if a baby’s eyes are brown at birth, they may remain so. This is the case for most black and Asian infants. Most caucasian infants are born with bluish-grey eyes and the permanent colour is only determined by three to six months of age.

The baby’s ears

The cartilage in the outer ear is very soft and flexible in a newborn and their ears might look misshapen or folded. Don’t worry! These folds will straighten out with time. Your baby will respond to your voice and the soothing sounds you make.

“The APGAR score assesses your newborn in the crucial minutes after birth by measuring activity, pulse, grimace, appearance and respiration.”

The baby’s nose

At birth, the nose and mouth are often filled with mucus. This is suctioned away to help your newborn breathe through their nose. Reflexive sneezing helps to clear the small, narrow nasal passages and is not necessarily a sign of a cold. Small amounts of mucus in the nasal cavities can cause your newborn to breathe noisily or sound congested.

The baby’s mouth

Your baby is born with a very strong sucking reflex. Blisters may be present on their upper lip, as well as on their fingers, hands or forearms if a lot of sucking took place in the womb. When their mouth is opened to yawn or cry, you may notice some small white spots on the centre of the palate. These are called Epstein’s pearls and, along with fluid-filled cysts sometimes present on the gums, will disappear during the first few weeks of life.

Born yellow: Jaundice facts

  • Many newborn babies, especially if your baby was born prematurely, develop newborn or physiological jaundice.
  • In most cases, this condition is due to raised bilirubin levels in the blood due to the immaturity of the liver and is not a threat to the baby.
  • Normal newborn jaundice is usually noticeable from the second to the fifth days of life, peaks between the fifth and seventh days, and clears within the first two weeks.
  • Jaundice first appears as a yellowish tinge to the skin on the face and the whites of the eyes and spreads to the rest of the body.
  • In some breastfed babies, jaundice may last a bit longer.
  • In most babies, jaundice resolves spontaneously. Your doctor will tell you what to do to hasten your baby’s recovery.

The APGAR scorecard

  • The APGAR score assesses your newborn in the crucial minutes after birth by measuring activity, pulse, grimace, appearance and respiration.
  • The test is administered twice: at one minute and then five minutes after birth.
  • If there are any problems, an additional score may be repeated at a 10-minute interval.
  • If your baby was born by Caesarean section, they will be re-assessed 15 minutes after delivery.

APGAR results

  • A score of 7-10 is considered normal.
  • A newborn with a score of 4-7 may require additional resuscitative measures.
  • A score of 3 and below necessitates immediate medical attention.

The APGAR score is strictly used to determine the newborn’s immediate condition at birth and does not necessarily reflect the future health of your baby.

Download the chart here to keep a record of your baby’s APGAR score, and place it in your scrapbook or album.