Newborns don't come with instruction manuals, and it may seem overwhelming to suddenly have to take care of their precious "parts." Here's everything you need to know to confidently take care of your baby "down there."
Following exclamations of "It's a boy!" or "It's a girl!" it's only natural for parents to take a peek at baby's "parts." That first peek down below can be a bit surprising if you're not prepared for what newborn genitalia look like.
If you've never seen a just-born baby, don't be alarmed. "There can definitely be some extra fluid/swelling for both newborn boys and for girls," explains Laura Jana, M.D., an Omaha-based pediatrician and author of Heading Home with Your Newborn: From Birth to Reality 2nd Edition. Whether you have a boy or girl, there are certain things you may notice -- besides the obvious differences.
"For girls, this is usually around the labia, and parents may also see some clear, white, or even bloody-looking discharge that, while normal, can be disconcerting," Dr. Jana says. It's not necessary or recommended to try to scrub away discharge. "Also, the two inner lips of the labia can actually fuse together to varying degrees, in some cases enough so as to appear to cover over the vaginal area/urethra. The underlying cause is labial irritation." Dr. Jana cautions against trying to "coax" the lips apart, as this can make adhesions form even more. "It's good to discuss with the doctor to assess how significant it is, and what, if anything, needs to be done," she advises.
"For as many of 10 percent of boy babies, one or both sides of the scrotum may seem swollen or bigger, and fluid filled," Dr. Jana explains. Some baby boys' testicles may not be fully descended right away, and some may have hypospadias, which Dr. Jana says may be called a "displaced" urethra, when the opening of the penis is not at the end of the penis, but further up. Rest assured this is something pediatricians look out for during the first exam and subsequent well-child visits.
It's quite simple to wash and care for a newborn's penis. Don't try to retract the foreskin, and if you choose to circumcise your baby, be prepared for what the penis will look like while healing. "If your baby is circumcised, the head of the penis may appear purple-red and/or swollen for up to a week. You can also expect a moist or even goopy-looking scab to form and remain on the head of the penis while it heals. A little Vaseline, bacitracin, or K-Y jelly often helps keep the scab from sticking to the diaper," Dr. Jana suggests. If you have a girl, be sure to wipe from front to back during diaper changes, and check the labial folds.
There's no need to use fancy, perfumed wipes or lotions -- for newborns, less is more. You may want to use warm water on a soft washcloth or gauze square, or try unscented baby wipes in the early weeks. Changing diapers frequently, especially when soiled with a bowel movement, is the first line of defense in preventing diaper rash. But even when kept clean and dry, some babies' skin is more sensitive than others. Dr. Jana recommends applying a protective layer of ointment or cream during changes. If you notice red areas with red pinpoint spots, your baby could have a yeast-type of diaper rash. This kind of rash is very common, she says, but "it's good to discuss with your doctor whether yeast cream is needed to effectively treat it."
Your baby will get a full newborn exam before leaving the hospital, and his or her genitals will be checked at each well-child visit. If you still have questions about how to take care of your baby "down there" at home, don't hesitate to call the doctor. If a diaper rash doesn't go away, if you notice discharge, or even if you just need reassurance that everything is okay, keep your baby's doctor on speed-dial. "It's important to realize that there's no such thing as a 'stupid' question," assures Dr. Jana.