Getting acquainted with your baby

By Anne Richards, MBBS, CCFP, FRCP(C) on March 15, 2007
You've waited nine long months and sometimes wondered if your baby would ever arrive. Suddenly the infant is in your arms - and most mothers feel that their organized life has become topsy-turvy.

You'll start by examining your child carefully - and, of course, satisfying yourself that everything is 'normal'.

Appearance

Most babies weigh between 3,200 and 3,600 grams (7 to 8 pounds). Some babies are quite small, either because they are premature or were underweight. On the other hand, some infants are quite huge (over 4500 grams) - but many of these mothers have diabetes.

Body position

When your baby is born, you will notice that the body is curled up, with bent knees and elbows. Even the feet are curved. Don't be concerned - this is usual and the body will soon straighten out.

Body movements

Your baby will sleep most of the time, but you will notice movements, even during sleep - stretching, slight trembling and often showing some sucking and eye movements.

When the baby is awake, arms and legs will move in various directions - and baby will grasp hold of something placed near a hand. This is an involuntary movement - these movements aren't controlled.

You'll be surprised when you put your infant on its tummy and see the head moving from side to side. However, the neck muscles aren't strong and the head should be supported when the baby is lifted.

Don't be startled by the baby's reaction to sudden loud noises. The body may jerk, arms fly out and baby may cry. (There won't be tears - newborns cry without tears!)

It is usual for babies to roll over at about 4 months - but be prepared for it to happen earlier. Never leave your baby unattended where a fall is possible. For instance, if the phone rings while you are tending the baby, take the infant with you or take the time to put baby in the crib or bassinette before you answer the phone.

Baby's skin

At birth, most babies are very red. They have a red blood count that is higher than an adult's and a special kind of blood. Hands and feet may look a little blue because the high blood count sometimes makes the circulation a little sluggish. Some babies are born with a white 'waterproofing' vernix, especially under the arms, behind the ears and in the groin.

Memo: Don't be concerned about skin rashes. You may notice tiny white spots on the nose, some acne or spots that look like mosquito bites. These will soon disappear.

There may be some birth marks - perhaps some flat, pinkish-red spots over the eyelids and at the back of the neck - which become more noticeable when baby cries. (Some people call these 'stork bites'.) Those red spots are visible blood vessels under the skin and will gradually disappear.

On the baby's back, just above the bottom, there may be spots that resemble bruises. Sometimes these also are seen around the ankles or wrists. They are called 'mongolian spots' or 'sacral nevi' and are caused by pigment in the deep layers of the skin. They are most likely to be found on infants of Chinese, Italian, Portuguese and Spanish heritage.

The head

A child born bottom first (breech) will have a round, nicely-shaped head. A child born in the usual way - head first - will have the top of the head bruised and swollen because of pushing against the opening of the uterus. The bones of the head even slide a little over themselves to help the birth - but this is no cause for concern.

Fontanelles

You will notice the soft spot (fontanelle) on the top of your baby's head. This is the space between four of the growing head bones. It is covered by a tough inner skin, well protected and is not a place to be feared with regular activity like washing the baby's scalp.

The eyes

A baby's eyes are closed most of the time. A child with brown eyes will always have brown eyes, but an infant with blue eyes may have colour changes. It may be 9 months before the final colour is resolved.

Memo: Young infants often look cross-eyed - and this is normal - however constant cross-eyes or cross-eyes after 6 months should be brought to the attention of your doctor.

There may be some red spots in the whites of the eyes. These disappear in about a week.

Your baby may wake up with a runny eye, a little spot of yellow pus and eyelids stuck together. This is often the result of a blocked tear duct. The little pool of tears can be followed by an infection, but this is on the surface of the eye only - is not serious - and is easily treated with antibiotic drops. The tear duct often unblocks itself, but if not, it can be fixed quite easily with a simple operation.

The hair

Some babies are born almost bald. Others are born with a great deal of hair, although some will fall out during the next weeks - and then will grow back. BCCE

By Anne Richards, MBBS, CCFP, FRCP(C)| March 15, 2007

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