Your new baby will have a thorough newborn physical examination and other check-ups after they are born to make sure they are healthy and well. Here, we list some of the common things you may notice about your baby’s appearance in the first few days and weeks and you can do about them.
If you think something is wrong
Most new parents feel a little insecure in their new role at first. It’s natural to be unsure about whether your concerns are valid or if you are being overprotective. But it’s important to try and trust your instincts if you think something is wrong. if you notice anything about your baby that worries you, don’t hesitate to contact your midwife, health visitor or GP.
Your baby’s head
Babies' heads come in all shapes and sizes. It's normal for their head to be a slightly unusual shape. It will often get better as they grow.
A flattened head
A young baby's skull is still relatively soft and some babies develop a flattened head when they're a few months old.
This is usually because babies spend a lot of time lying on their back, which reduces the risk of sudden infant death syndrome.
A slightly flattened head isn't usually anything to worry about, but it's a good idea to get advice early on so you can take steps to stop it getting any worse. Speak to your health visitor or GP if you're concerned about the shape of your baby's head or think they may have problems turning their head. They can examine your baby's head and suggest things you can do to help.
To take pressure off the flattened part of your baby's head:
- give your baby time on their tummy during the day (just make sure you are watching them carefully)
- change the position of toys and mobiles in their cot – this will encourage your baby to turn their head on to the non-flattened side
- alternate the side you hold your baby when feeding and carrying.
Fontanelles (soft spots)
There will be soft spots on the top and towards the back of your baby's head called the fontanelles. This is where your baby’s skull bones close over. You can still gentle touch or wash the fontanelles, which are covered by a tough protective membrane.
Your baby’s umbilical cord
Shortly after your baby is born, the midwife will clamp your baby’s umbilical cord with a plastic clip, close to the belly button. They will then cut the cord, leaving a small part and the plastic clip attached.
Your baby’s cord will usually dry and fall off after about a week, although it may take longer than this. The cord doesn’t have any nerves, so this won’t hurt your baby.
To care for the cord and reduce the chance of infection, try to:
- wash your hands before and after baby care (for example, when your change their nappy)
- keep the cord clean and dry
- leave the cord open to the air and ensure the cord is outside of the nappy
- if your baby’s wee or poo gets on to the cord, you can clean it with plain water.
For example, when you’re feeding your baby at home, try stripping them down to their nappy. This is a great opportunity to air the cord and have some skin-to-skin time with your baby. You can put a loose blanket over your baby if it’s cold.
Tell your midwife, health visitor or GP if you notice any signs of infection. These include:
- an unpleasant smell.
An umbilical granuloma is an overgrowth of tissue during the healing process of the belly button (umbilicus). It usually looks like a soft pink or red lump and often is wet or leaks small amounts of clear or yellow fluid. It is most common in the first few weeks of a baby’s life. Your health visitor can advise you how to treat this at home.
Your baby’s skin
Your baby’s skin may still be covered in vernix. This is a white sticky substance that covers your baby's skin while in the womb. Leave this alone to absorb naturally. It's a natural moisturiser that also protects against infection in the first few days.
To look after your baby’s skin, try to:
- bathe your baby with plain water only for at least the first month
- use some mild, non-perfumed soap (if you need to)
- avoid skin lotions, medicated wipes or adding cleansers to your baby's bath water
- use cotton wool and plain warm water when cleaning a newborn’s bum and genitalia after a dirty nappy for the first few weeks.
If your baby was premature, their skin will be even more delicate. Find out about caring for your premature baby’s skin at home.
Some baby’s skin may be dry and cracked. This is because all the protective vernix has been absorbed before they were born. Don’t use any creams or lotions as these can do more harm than good. Instead, let it improve by itself.
It’s common for newborn babies to have spots and rashes after birth.
Milk spots (milia)
These tiny white sports (particularly around the nose) are harmless and will disappear naturally.
This is a blotchy red rash with pinhead solid bumps that shows most commonly on the baby’s face, but can also show on their stomach, arms and legs. It usually appears in the first few weeks and disappears within a day or 2.
This shows as red areas on the skin that usually disappear when the baby cools down.
Nappy rash is red patches on your baby’s bum or genitals. It can happen when the skin is in contact with a wet or soiled nappy for a long time. Try to:
- change your baby’s nappy frequently
- clean the whole nappy area gently but thoroughly, wiping from front to back
- use water or fragrance-free and alcohol-free baby wipes
- dry your baby gently after washing them
- lie your baby on a towel and leave their nappy off for as long and as often as you can to let fresh air get to their skin
- do not use soap, bubble bath, or lotions
- do not use talcum powder as this can irritate your baby's skin.
If the rash is causing your baby discomfort, your health visitor or pharmacist can recommend a nappy rash cream to treat it.
Speak to your GP or health visitor if you have any worries or:
- if the rash is severe
- if the rash doesn't go away after a few days
- your baby develops a persistent bright red, moist rash with white or red pimples that spreads into the folds of their skin, which may be a sign of infection.
These are small, flat, pinkish-red areas, usually found on the forehead, eyelids and nape of the neck. They usually fade spontaneously and are most obvious when the baby is hot or crying.
The NHS website has more information about birthmarks.
When to be concerned about rashes
Rashes or spots may come and go. But if your baby has a high temperature and/or you also notice a change in your baby's behaviour (for example, if your baby isn't feeding well, or is very sleepy or very irritable) tell your midwife, health visitor or GP immediately.
If a rash does not fade if you press the side of a clear glass firmly against the skin, it can be a sign of sepsis (sometimes called septicaemia or blood poisoning) caused by meningitis. Call 999 straight away if this happens.
The NHS website has a useful page about rashes with useful images of what they look like.
Cradle cap is a common, harmless skin condition that can last until baby is 1 year old. Cradle cap can look like patches of greasy and yellow crusts on the head, although it can appear on other parts of the body, like the eyebrows, nose and nappy area. It's not clear what causes cradle cap. It cannot be caught from another baby.
Cradle cap is not itchy or painful and does not bother your baby. It usually clears up on its own, but there are things you can try to make it better including:
- wash your baby's hair regularly with baby shampoo and gently loosen flakes with a soft brush
- gently rub on baby oil or a vegetable oil (such as olive oil) to soften the crusts
- use baby oil, vegetable oil or petroleum jelly overnight and wash with baby shampoo in the morning.
Don’t use soap, adult shampoos or peanut oil (in case your baby is allergic to peanuts). Try to avoid picking the crusts too, as this can cause an infection.
Swollen nipples and genitals
You may notice that you baby has slightly swollen nipples, regardless of their sex. Their genitalia may also look swollen, but this will calm down after a few weeks.
Baby girls may have a small amount of blood in their nappies or have a white, cloudy discharge from their vagina.
This is all caused by hormones passing from mother to baby before birth and isn’t anything to worry about.
Sucking blisters on the lips are caused by your baby sucking on them. These are harmless and don’t need any treatment.
Oral thrush is a common fungal infection that develops in the baby’s mouth, which is usually harmless. It can happen to breastfed and bottle fed babies. Babies can pass oral thrush on to their mum if she is breastfeeding.
Symptoms in babies can include:
- a white coating on the tongue like cottage cheese that can’t be wiped off easily
- white spots in their mouth
- if your baby does not want to feed.
Thrush can also appear on baby’s bottoms, which can cause nappy rash.
If oral thrush isn’t treated, the infection can spread to other parts of the body. Your pharmacist may be able to give you advice, but some treatments are only suitable for babies over 4 months old, so if your baby is younger it’s best to see your GP or ask your health visitor.
If you don’t see any improvement after 1 week of treatment, you may need to see the GP again.
Your GP, midwife or health visitor can also give you advice about hygiene for you and your baby, such as:
- changing your baby’s nappy regularly and cleaning the area with water
- washing your hands after changing your baby’s nappy
- washing your hands before feeding them
- wash and sterilise bottles and dummies properly – we have more information about this on our formula feeding page.
Before being born, your baby may swallow some fluid, blood or mucus. It’s normal for babies to have watery or mucous vomits for the first few days after birth. This may even be streaked with blood. Your baby may also vomit some milk after feeding.
Speak to your GP, midwife or health visitor if your baby is vomiting a lot or if you have any concerns.
Some babies have sticky eyes from time to time. To clean their eyes, you can use cotton wool with boiled water (make sure this has cooled down completely) or breastmilk and wipe from the inside corner of the eye to the outside corner.
If the whites of your baby’s eye aren’t red but there is a discharge, sticky eyes may be from blocked tear ducts. Approximately 1 in 5 babies are born with tear ducts that have not fully developed, affecting one or both eyes. This can last for several months.
Your health visitor may advise you to wait and see if the sticky eye improves over time. If the tear duct is still blocked and continuing to cause a sticky eye by about 12 months of age, your GP may refer your baby to an eye specialist.
This is inflammation of the thin layer of tissue that covers the front of the eye. See your GP if you think your baby has conjunctivitis. Symptoms of conjunctivitis include:
- red, itchy and sticky eyelids
- the eyes watering more than usual
- a discharge from the eye that is more noticeable in the morning and when they wake up
- a yellow discharge from the eye and that usually start in one eye and can spread to the other eye.
If your baby is less than 28 days old and they have red eyes, try to get an urgent appointment with your GP.
Jaundice is a yellowish colouration of the skin and eyes. It’s caused by raised levels of a chemical called bilirubin in the blood.
Jaundice is quite common in babies (particularly premature babies) and your baby may need treatment. It’s important to let your midwife, health visitor or the hospital where you gave birth know if you think your baby has jaundice. You should contact your midwife urgently if you notice jaundice in the first 24 hours of your baby’s life.
If your baby has jaundice, their skin will look a bit yellow. This can be more difficult to spot if your baby has darker skin, but you can also look for yellowing:
- in the whites of their eyes
- inside their mouth
- on the soles of their feet
- on the palms of their hands.
A newborn baby with jaundice may also:
- be sleepy
- not want to feed or not feed as well as usual
- have dark, yellow wee (it should be colourless)
- have pale poo (it should be yellow or orange).
The NHS website has more information about newborn jaundice.
Remember, if you notice anything about your baby that worries you, don’t hesitate to contact your midwife, health visitor or GP. Never worry about bothering them. The most important thing is that your baby is well and that you have peace of mind.