What to look for in your newborn

What to look for in your newborn
Your newborn has special physical features. These are the ones you should pay attention to.


Newborns have certain features that may surprise first-time parents. Most of them indicate that your baby is doing well. Here’s what you should look out for after your baby is born.

How much should a newborn weigh?

Babies born at full term, after 37–42 weeks of pregnancy, usually weigh between 2.5 and 4.3 kg (5.5–9.5 lb.) and measure between 45 and 55 cm (17–21 in.).

Newborns can lose about 10 percent of their birth weight within the first few days of life. This is completely normal. They will regain their birth weight within 10–14 days. On average, babies gain 140–250 g per week during their first 3 months of life.

They may experience growth spurts during this period, in which case they’ll nurse more frequently. By month 4 or 5, your baby will likely be double their birth weight. By their first birthday, their weight will have tripled.

If your baby was born prematurely (before the 37th week of pregnancy), they may be smaller and weigh less than most newborns. They may also grow more slowly at first. What matters is that they grow at a steady rate, not that they catch up to other babies their age.

A newborn’s skin

Depending on their parents’ ethnic or cultural origins, a baby’s skin can be pinkish, reddish, dull blue, or greyish purple. Their skin will sometimes show signs of mottling (marks that resemble marble patterns). These marks are caused by the cold and usually disappear as soon as the baby has warmed up.

Not too hot and not too cold
Maintain a room temperature of 20°C–21°C (68°F–70°F). Cover your baby with a light blanket if needed: they should be warm enough, but not sweating. Their skin is equally sensitive to heat and cold.

A baby’s skin is generally smooth, soft, and, in some places, transparent. However, newborns sometimes have wrinkled or peeling skin, particularly on their extremities (fingers and toes). This is especially common in babies born slightly past their due date. In addition, a newborn’s skin is sometimes covered in a whitish layer known as vernix caseosa, which is absorbed into their skin within a few hours or days. Their skin may also be covered in a fine fuzz that disappears after a few weeks.

If your baby develops yellowish skin 2–3 days after being born, they may have jaundice. For more information on this common occurrence, read our fact sheet on jaundice (In French).

Marks on the skin

You may notice small red spots between your baby’s eyes, on their eyelids, or on the back of their head. They turn white when you press on them and darken when your baby cries. These spots will disappear within the first year.

You may also notice bluish spots on your infant’s back or bottom. These usually disappear by the age of 3. Some birthmarks, however, are permanent: think of them as genetic signatures inherited from you or your partner’s ancestors.

You might also see small white bumps on your baby’s face, particularly around their nose. These are called milia, and they’ll disappear gradually within a few weeks.

The umbilical cord

At birth, the umbilical cord is a yellowish-white colour and has a gelatinous texture. It will turn black as it dries and eventually fall off on its own, usually after 2–4 weeks.

A newborn’s head

La tête du nouveau-né

A baby’s head is too heavy for them to hold up on their own. The muscles, tendons, and nerves in their neck are still delicate, which is why you should always support your little one’s head when you pick them up, to avoid injury.

If your baby’s head has been slightly misshapen due to pressure on the skull during delivery, don’t worry: it will revert to its regular shape within a few weeks. The bones in a baby’s skull have yet to fully join together. They are connected by two membranes called fontanelles. One is diamond-shaped and located at the top the head, while the other is triangular and located on the back of the head. If you look closely, you may be able to see them pulsating in time with your baby’s heartbeat. The fontanelles should be handled carefully.

Some babies are born with a lump under their scalp. This serosanguineous bump may be caused by an edema or an accumulation of blood. It will disappear within a few days without leaving any marks.

How to prevent flat head syndrome
Because the bones in an infant’s head are still soft and malleable, their skull can flatten if they always rest their head on the same side. This phenomenon is known as flat head syndrome. The risk of developing a flat head increases if a baby lies in the same position for an extended period of time. This can happen if they always sleep in the same position or if they spend a lot of time in a stroller, car seat, or carry cot.
To prevent flat head syndrome, it’s a good idea to regularly change your baby’s position in their crib so that their head is sometimes facing the headboard and sometimes facing the foot of the crib. You can also install a mobile above the crib to draw your baby’s attention and get them to move their head in different directions. It’s important to remember that a baby should always sleep on their back. If, however, your baby is awake and someone is supervising them, it’s recommended to gently turn your baby onto their tummy.

A newborn’s eye colour

Caucasian babies are usually born with blue-grey eyes, while babies with darker skin tones tend to have darker eyes. An infant’s eye colour isn’t definitive before they turn 3 months old, sometimes not even before they turn 1.

A newborn’s reproductive organs

It’s a girl . . .

The labia minora of a baby girl’s vulva swell during her first 2–3 days of life. They may be covered in vernix caseosa, the whitish substance mentioned earlier. This substance protects against bacteria, so do not try to remove it. Girls may also experience mild vaginal bleeding during their first week. This is perfectly normal. Known as a mini period, the bleeding is caused by the hormones transmitted by the baby’s mother during pregnancy.

Both girls and boys are sometimes born with swollen breasts that produce a small amount of milk. Do not try to extract it. Everything will return to “normal” in a few days.

It’s a boy . . .

Boys are usually born with both testes having already descended into the scrotum, which is purplish red at birth. If they haven’t descended, let your doctor know. This can sometimes occur with premature babies. Full-term babies can also be born with undescended testes; in this case, it’s common for only one testicle to have descended into the scrotum.

If the foreskin sticks to the glans, don’t try to peel it off: this will cause your baby unnecessary pain. The foreskin will expand on its own and generally separate from the glans when your child is between the ages of 3 and 6. (It’s also possible that this won’t happen until he reaches adolescence.)

About circumcision
This surgical procedure, which consists in removing part or all of the foreskin, was once commonplace in Quebec. Today, in light of research into the procedure’s benefits and drawbacks, the Canadian Paediatric Society no longer recommends circumcision as routine practice for newborns. For more information, read our fact sheet on circumcision.

A newborn’s urine

Urine et selles du nouveau-né

A newborn will urinate with increasing frequency during their first week of life: for example, they may only need one diaper change in the first 24 hours, then go through at least six diapers a day by day 5.

A baby’s urine should be pale yellow and odourless if they’re drinking enough. There may be the occasional orange spot in their diaper. These are urate crystals. They are normal and harmless. The presence of urate crystals after 2 days could be a sign of dehydration. Speak to a doctor if you still see crystals after one week.

Make sure your baby is feeding often and enough. During the first 2 months, they should be nursing (bottle or breast) 8–12 times every 24 hours. From months 2 to 6, their tummy should be full from 6–8 daily feedings.

During your little one’s first 2 days of life, they’ll drink anywhere from 15 to 100 ml (1–7 tbsp) daily. From days 3 to 5, this will increase to around 200 ml (a little over ¾ of a cup). From there on out, they’ll drink 700–800 ml per day (2½–3½ cups).

Dark and odorous urine

If your baby is urinating less frequently than usual and their urine is darker and more pungent, they are likely too hot and slightly dehydrated. Lower the room temperature (it should be 20°C–21°C, or 68°F–70°F) and don’t cover your baby with too many blankets.

If they’re being breastfed, they should nurse more often. If your baby is formula-fed, start by making sure that you’re using the right ratio of powdered formula to water, as the wrong quantities can lead to dehydration. Then, check that your baby is drinking enough. If they are, you can try giving them water between feedings. If things don’t improve, see a doctor or call Info-Santé (811).

Another reason your baby’s urine may be darker or smell is if they have fever. See a doctor immediately if your baby is less than 3 months old and has a rectal temperature of 38.1°C or higher.

A newborn’s stool

A newborn’s first stools will be very dark green or black and sticky. The baby is eliminating the waste (a substance called meconium) that accumulated in their intestines while they were in the womb. The first breast milk they ingest after birth (colostrum) helps clear out their digestive system. Their stool will gradually turn brown and then yellow during their first week of life.

If your baby is breastfed, they’ll pass 1–3 large yellow stools daily as of the second week. Don’t worry if your baby goes more frequently: some babies can have up to 10 bowel movements a day in their first few weeks of life. That number may decrease as of the sixth week and stabilize at about one large bowel movement per day or per week. From this point on, as long as your baby’s stools are still soft, there’s no reason to worry if they’re infrequent. It’s also normal for your baby to strain and turn red when they relieve themself. If your baby is formula-fed, they will have soft stools every 2–3 days.

Breastfed newborns can get diarrhea if their mother takes laxatives. If they aren’t drinking enough milk, they can therefore become dehydrated.

When should you consult an expert?

Speak to a doctor if your baby’s stools are red or black (tinged with blood) or if they’re hard and dry. You should also consult a doctor immediately if your baby’s stools are white, grey, or beige, as discoloured stools can be a sign of liver problems.

It’s equally important to seek prompt medical attention if your baby has diarrhea and appears to be dehydrated. The first signs of dehydration are less frequent urination and a dry mouth.

See a doctor if your baby is formula-fed and their stools are hard and more than 3 days apart. The doctor will advise you on how to relieve your baby’s constipation.

Why newborns sneeze so often

Newborns sneeze a lot—up to 12 times a day. It’s how they get rid of the secretions that interfere with their breathing, as their nostril hairs aren’t yet developed enough to act as a natural filter. Sneezing is therefore a normal part of the growing process. It isn’t necessarily caused by a cold.

How to get rid of a baby’s hiccups

Don’t be alarmed if your baby gets the hiccups after feeding—they aren’t in pain. Hiccups are caused by spasms of the diaphragm and will stop on their own after a few minutes. Nursing your baby again can help make their hiccups go away.

 

Naître et grandir

Scientific review: Dr. Anne-Claude Bernard-Bonnin, pediatrician
Research and copywriting: The Naître et grandir team
Updated: May 2020

 

Photos: iStock.com/rest and GettyImages/alexandr_1958 and lostinbids

 

Sources

Please note that hyperlinks to other websites are not updated regularly, and some may have changed since publication. It is therefore possible that a link may not be found. If a link is no longer valid, use search engines to find the relevant information.

  • AboutKidsHealth. “Newborn babies at birth.” 2009. www.aboutkidshealth.ca
  • Doré, Nicole, and Danielle Le Hénaff. From Tiny Tot to Toddler: A practical guide for parents from pregnancy to age two. Quebec City, Institut national de santé publique du Québec. www.inspq.qc.ca
  • KidsHealth. “A Guide for First-Time Parents.” 2018. kidshealth.org
  • Canadian Paediatric Society. Caring for Kids. “Your baby’s skin.” 2017. caringforkids.cps.ca
  • Canadian Paediatric Society. Caring for Kids. “Circumcision of baby boys: Information for parents.” 2015. caringforkids.cps.ca

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