12 Surprising Things About Newborns

Dirty diapers? Yes. Sleepless nights? Of course. A pimply, pointy-headed newborn—what's up with that? Read on to learn the biggest surprises about little babies.

You've welcomed your little bundle into the world and you look down at their sweet face. And then you start to notice little quirks no one warned you about. For example, what are those newborn tremors, and why does your baby's head look a little cone-shaped? Or why is their skin so dry and their appetite never-ending?

The good news is these things are nothing to worry about—they're just a few of the usual quirks of newborns. So here's what you never knew you needed to know about newborn babies' strange little traits and habits.

Their Head May Look Strange

If your newborn's head looks a little strange and cone-shaped at first, that's because they probably spent hours wedged in your pelvis. Openings in the skull allow it to mold its shape to fit through the birth canal. "This protects against skull fractures or brain injury during a vaginal delivery," says Anne Hansen, M.D., a neonatologist at Boston Children's Hospital and an assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School.

Other imperfections could add to your baby's temporarily misshapen head. For example, if they slid out on their nose, their nostrils may be a bit squashed. In addition, fluids can accumulate under their skin and may make their eyes look swollen. And they may even have minor bruises on their face and scalp if a health care provider used forceps or a vacuum extractor during delivery.

Your baby is a work of beauty in progress. So be patient, and these bumps, lumps, and bruises will heal soon.

They May Be Jumpy

Jumping and trembling are common reactions in newborns. After spending months curled up in a bag of water inside a cozy, snug womb, your newborn now has all the space in the world to move, with no restrictions on their limbs. Even so, they haven't quite figured out how to control their body amid all this new freedom, so a small wave of their arm becomes a wide jerky swing.

Babies are also born with certain reflexes. One of them is the Moro, or startle, reflex: When your infant senses they're falling or is startled, they'll suddenly throw out their arms, open their hands, draw their head back, and then quickly bring their arms back in. This reflex disappears by about 3 months.

In addition, a still-developing neurological system sends more electrical impulses to muscles than necessary, which can cause your baby's chin to quiver or legs to tremble. As things become more organized over the first couple of weeks, they'll tend to shake less. Most quivers are nothing to worry about, but see a health care provider if your baby's shaking is rhythmic or if a trembling limb doesn't stop when you touch it.

They're Always Hungry

It might feel like you're feeding your infant around the clock in the first weeks—because you are. Newborns eat a lot. Their frequent demands are nature's way of increasing a breastfeeding parent's milk supply to meet a newborn's growing appetite. Breastfed babies also tend to eat more frequently because breast milk is more quickly digested and completely absorbed than formula. But, no matter how you feed your baby, their appetite in the early weeks may seem constant.

The reason for the feeding frenzy, of course, is that your little one has a lot of growing to do. They'll double their birth weight in six months, which requires a large caloric intake. So, expect your baby to be particularly ravenous during growth spurts—the first of which typically occurs between 4 and 6 weeks of age.

Just be careful that you don't misinterpret their cues as hunger when all they may want is comfort or closeness, says OB-GYN Glade Curtis, M.D., author of Your Baby's First Year Week by Week. If they have eaten recently, try holding and swaddling to see if that soothes them.

Their Hands and Feet May Be Cold

Newborns' extremities tend to be cold. So, before you crank up the thermostat or wrap your little one in another blanket, feel their torso. If it's warm and pink, your baby probably isn't chilled. Because their circulatory system is still developing, blood is shunted more often to vital organs and systems where it's needed most. That means their hands and feet are the last body parts to get a good blood supply.

It can take up to three months for a baby's circulation to adapt completely to life outside the womb. In the meantime, it's common for their tiny fingers and toes to feel chilly and look pale. However, their circulation will improve as your baby becomes more mobile and active.

Their Testicles May Seem Large

A baby's testicles can appear large for their size when they're born. But neither genetics nor super-powered hormones play a part in their size. Instead, the swelling is a result of pressure exerted on your baby during birth, as well as by fluids trapped in the tissue.

Also, all new babies still have their gestational parent's hormones circulating in their bodies. These hormones enlarge the testicles and cause the labia to swell. This genital swelling subsides over the first couple of days.

They May Have Blood in Their Diaper

The same maternal hormones that cause swollen testicles and labia are also responsible for the bloody vaginal discharge that newborns sometimes have. So don't worry if you see a small smudge of blood or a bit of staining on your baby's diaper in the first weeks of life.

Dr. Curtis says this mini menstrual period usually lasts only a few days. Sometimes, what looks like blood may be concentrated urine, which can look quite dark in the folds of a diaper. Bright red blood, however, is unusual and warrants medical attention.

They May Have a Blister on Their Lips

Many newborns develop a blister from vigorous sucking on a bottle or breast. Sometimes, the blister is present at birth because of thumb-sucking in the womb. A sucking callus causes no discomfort to your baby. In fact, the overgrowth of skin stiffens the lip and may make grasping the nipple easier. The callus will disappear in a few months, or it might come and go from day to day.

Their Poop May Look Like Diarrhea

Breastfed babies have seedy, mustard-yellow stools that are liquid and unformed, while bottle-fed infants tend to have slightly more solid bowel movements with a brownish color and the consistency of soft ice cream. It can be hard to distinguish a newborn's normal bowel movements from diarrhea, particularly when your baby is not eating anything solid. Naturally, their poop will be softer when they ingest only liquids.

It's also not uncommon for babies to poop after every feeding. (It's called the gastro-colic reflex: Whenever milk goes into the stomach, something comes out the other end.) This pattern is more common in breastfed babies; formula-fed babies tend to poop less often, maybe a couple of times a day to once every couple of days. As long as your child is gaining weight and has no abdominal pain or bloating, their pooping frequency is probably fine.

Your best bet is to become familiar with what's usual for your baby. Talk to a health care provider if the frequency, volume, or consistency changes dramatically.

They Sneeze All the Time

Newborns sneeze often, but not because they're cold or sick; it's simply how they clear their nasal and respiratory passages of congestion and airborne particles. Sneezing also helps reopen a temporarily closed nostril.

For example, Dr. Curtis explains that when a baby presses up against a parent during a feeding, one of their nostrils might get flattened. "After feeding, the baby will take a breath or sneeze to open his nose again."

Their Skin Is Flaky

While your baby was bathing in a lagoon of amniotic fluid, their skin was nicely protected from the watery environment by a coating of white, waxy material called vernix. But once they're exposed to the air, and the vernix is rubbed away, the upper layer of skin dries out and begins to peel.

Your child's entire body may peel (although it's most noticeable on the hands and feet). Don't try to pick off the flakes—you might remove skin that's not ready to shed. Moisturizers aren't necessary either. The flaking usually lasts one to two weeks.

They Breathe Strangely

It's normal for infants to take slight pauses and then go through periods of rapid breathing. "Occasionally catching or skipping a breath is part of the development of the diaphragm (the muscle that enables breathing) and neurological system," Dr. Curtis says. A pause of up to 20 seconds is considered normal. When they're about 6 weeks old, your baby should develop a more regular breathing pattern.

Like many new parents, you probably spend a good part of each night bent over the side of your little one's crib, checking to make sure they're still breathing. And you've probably been freaked out a few times watching their irregular breaths.

If you're worried about sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), you're wise to be vigilant. You can reduce SIDS risk by putting your baby to sleep on their back, keeping all soft bedding and toys out of their crib, and not smoking. If your baby stops breathing for longer than 20 seconds (a sign of apnea), appears limp, or turns blue, purple, or gray, seek medical attention.

Their Cries All Sound the Same

A newborn's cries can be hard to distinguish. So, don't worry if you don't instinctively know whether they're hungry, tired, or needing a diaper change just from the sound of their cry. "Over time, you'll recognize the loud shrieking of the pain cry and the more subdued whimpering of fatigue," Dr. Hansen says.

The hunger cry usually falls somewhere in between, although some babies can sound pretty desperate (and loud) when they want to be fed immediately. But in the early days, it doesn't matter so much why your little one cries (sometimes they'll howl for no apparent reason) so long as you're addressing their basic needs. You'll still react with the same loving attention each time—and that's all your baby really wants or needs.

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