Baby’s Appearance

Shape of Baby’s Head

Your baby may have an unusual shaped head and/or soft swelling towards the back of the head at birth.  This is normal and is due to pressure as the head moves through the birth canal.  This will soon correct itself.  Occasionally, there is a soft swelling, on one or both sides of the head (cephalhaematoma) caused by bleeding into the outside layer of the skull bone during the birth.  It may take up to a few months to disappear.

The back of your baby’s head may become flattened from sleeping on her back with head in the same position.  Her brain growth and development are not affected by this flattening.  Flattening can be reduced by alternating the direction (to the left and to the right) her head is turned in the cot.

If you are concerned about your baby’s head shape or size, talk to your midwife or other health professional.

The Fontanelles

These are ‘soft spots’ on the top of the baby’s head where the skull bones have not yet fused together.  Babies’ heads grow very quickly and the fontanelle allows this rapid growth, and the moulding of the skull bones during birth.

  • the smaller back fontanelle closes by about 6-8 weeks while the larger front fontanelle on the top of her head gradually closes over 9-18 months
  • washing or touching it will not harm your baby’s head
  • it is normal to notice the fontanelle pulsating (going up and down at the same rate as the baby’s heartbeat)
  • the front fontanelle usually feels a little tense and looks slightly raised when the baby cries.  if it is still bulging and tense when baby is settled and quiet or is sat up, contact your doctor at once, especially if baby seems unwell and you cannot settle her.  It is also normal if it appears sunken as long as the baby is well and having normal wet nappies
  • if your baby is not drinking well or has vomiting or diarrhoea, a sunken fontanelle may be a late sign of dehydration.  Baby needs to see a doctor.

Cradle Cap/Hair

Cradle cap looks like thick scaly areas on the baby’s head.  It does not hurt your baby and requires no treatment.  If you wish to treat it because of appearance, massage baby or olive oil onto baby’s scalp.  A few hours later, rub it lightly (with a towel, your finger or a soft baby’s toothbrush) and then wash her hair.  This may be repeated over several days for the cradle cap to completely go.

Brushing her hair regularly and only washing with shampoo once a week can help prevent cradle cap.  Special preparations for cradle cap can be brought from chemists, but are not usually necessary.  It is common for your baby’s hair to fall out especially at the back of the head.  The hair will grow back over the next few months.

Your Baby’s Eyes

Baby’s eye colour may change gradually over weeks and months after birth. Many babies have red or purple patches on the eyelids and puffy skin for a day or two due to pressure during delivery. Your midwife will check your baby’s eyes for cataracts after birth. A cataract gives the pupil a white or grey appearance. However, this is a very rare occurrence.

Sticky Eye

Many babies develop ‘sticky eye’ because the tear ducts are tiny and become easily blocked. When this happens a clear or white sticky fluid collects in the eye as the tears evaporate. To clean her eyes use a separate cotton wool ball or clean tissue for each eye. Moisten with cool (previously boiled) water and gently wipe the eye from the inside corner to the outside. Discard the cotton wool ball and use a clean one to wipe dry.

A common remedy is to squirt some breastmilk in the corner of the eye.  If the problem persists, the white of the eye appears red, or the discharge is yellow or green see a doctor.

Sneezing/Blocked Noses

Sneezing is very common in babies. Babies usually breathe through their noses rather than their mouths so sneezing helps to keep her nose clear. Most babies sound increasingly snorty or snuffly in the first couple of months and may become noisier or even block their nose when they have a cold.

Breasts and Genitals

It is normal for babies to have some of their mother’s hormones in their blood for a few days after birth. For girls, the breasts may swell and occasionally may discharge a few drops of milk. Also, as light bloodstained vaginal discharge may occur. This does not require any special care.

For boys, the breasts may also swell from the hormone changes. Occasionally a boy’s testicles have not descended into the scrotum at birth. Discuss if your baby boy’s testicles are not down, or if you are concerned about baby’s breast swelling, with your midwife, doctor or other health professional.

Penis Care

Newborn boys’ foreskin (skin at the end of the penis) does not need any special care. Normal washing in the bath is enough. The foreskin does not need pulling back/retracting or any cleaning under it. You need to see your doctor if you notice your baby boy’s:

  •   urine stream (flow) is weak, dribbles or stops and starts
  •   foreskin is very swollen when he wees and it balloons out
  •   pus or blood is coming out of the end of the foreskin.