Why Are Babies So Cute? (And Other Burning Newborn Questions!)

An Eyes & Nose Thing

Why Do Babies' Eyes Change Color?

Eye color is determined by the amount of melanin, or pigment, in the iris; brown eyes have the most melanin, blue the least, explains Louis Borgenicht, MD, a Salt Lake City pediatrician and coauthor of The Baby Owner's Manual: Operating Instructions, Trouble-Shooting Tips, and Advice on First-Year Maintenance (Quirk Books). Most Caucasian babies are born with very little melanin in their irises and so have blue or gray eyes for their first six to nine months. But as babies' melanin gradually increases, their eyes may darken to green, hazel, or brown, usually arriving at their permanent color between 9 months and a year. African-American, Asian, and Hispanic babies typically arrive with brown eyes, since they have more melanin at birth.

Why Do Babies Sneeze So Much?

Newborns breathe exclusively through the nose for the first couple of months -- nature's way of making sure their mouth is free to suckle, explains Vincent Iannelli, MD, associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. Consequently, their nasal passages must be kept clear, and that's where all that sneezing comes in. During the first days of life, babies sneeze to clear their lungs and nasal passages of residual amniotic fluid. After that, they sneeze to clear their nose of dust, or milk or formula. "And all babies sneeze in the winter, because the heat's on and the humidity is low," which can leave baby's nasal passages dry and irritated, notes Dr. Iannelli. While the sneezing can make your baby sound like she has a chronic cold, absent a runny nose or other symptoms it's just her body's way of ensuring she breathes easy.

Why Do Babies Cry Without Producing Tears?

Newborns have underdeveloped tear glands, which produce just enough tears to keep their eyes moist but not enough to spill over their lids when they're upset, explains Dr. Iannelli, who is also the author of The Everything Father's First Year Book (Adams Media). You won't see tears running down the cheeks of most infants until they're about 7 or 8 months old, he adds. The exception: babies with a blocked tear duct will regularly shed tears from the affected eye, even when they're not crying, starting as early as 2 or 3 weeks of age. Blocked tear ducts, which prevent the normal nasal drainage of tears, are relatively common -- some 5 percent of babies are born with at least one -- but more than 90 percent unclog spontaneously within the first year. You may be able to move things along by massaging the tear ducts -- ask your doctor how to do it. In some cases, the tear ducts may need to be opened with a tiny probe, a simple surgical procedure performed by ophthalmologists.

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