Hiking in the mountains once I came upon a baby moose and it’s mother wading into an alpine lake. Man, I thought to myself as the young creature that seemed all legs and joints, ears and nose followed its mama around, talk about a face only a mother could love. Years later, I gave birth to the most perfectly beautiful baby girl and felt so lucky that I’d had a cute baby, not one of those odd ones that people aren’t sure how to comment on. And then, a couple years passed and I looked back on my baby’s newborn pictures with fresh eyes. Hmmm….maybe I did have a weird looking one? Maybe they’re all a little strange looking? How did I not notice that coney head, baby acne, and crossed eyes? Clearly, I was blinded by the throes of true love for my little bundle and couldn’t see anything less than perfect when I looked at her. (Don’t worry, with my second I baby I did notice some of those funny little newborn quirks despite a heart and eyes full of love!) But have no fear, many of those strange things you may see in your newborn are completely normal and often don’t last. Here’s a little roundup of some of the most common strange but normal things at birth.
“At least baby hats are super cute,” my friend’s young, lacking in child experience (and tactless) sister-in-law told her when first meeting the baby. “You know, because her head’s so…pointy.” Cool, one less person to consider for the Godmother roll. So yes, your newborn’s head may be a little cone-shaped after birth. This is especially the case if you’ve had a long vaginal labor. In the birth canal, pressure may cause skull bones to overlap, resulting in a slightly conical shape. But that’s by natural design. (Babies born via Cesarean will usually have more rounded heads.) Rest assured, your baby’s noggin should round out beautifully in a few days.
“I made an emergency appointment with the pediatrician and the minute she walked into the exam room I tearfully demanded a neurology consult for my two-month-old,” a friend told me after she’d seen her infant’s eyes go crossed more than once. Fortunately, her baby’s doctor talked her down and all was fine. Don’t freak out if you see your newborn go marble-eyes on you for an instant. Their little eyes are just as uncoordinated as the rest of their bodies and won’t always track in-sync for the first few months. Around three months old you should see less crossing and wandering eyes as baby becomes increasingly coordinated. (Be mindful if your infant’s eyes never seem to align, though, and make sure to discuss it with your pediatrician.) And while we’re talking eyes, don’t be surprised to see puffy eyelids on your little babe after birth due to pressure on their faces from the birthing process.
Birthmarks or Discoloration of Skin
Reddish, pink, or darkened blotches found on your new baby’s forehead, neck, back, or that little spot right between her eyes are examples of birthmarks or other normal skin variants. They will often darken during crying and can be concerning to a new parent. But don’t worry, many marks will fade over time and even if they do persist, they are typically harmless.
Bowed Legs and Feet
While a uterus has lots of perks in terms of living quarters - safety, nourishment, warmth - it does lack in square footage. It’s perfectly normal for your newborn to arrive with legs and feet bowed because they’ve been cozily compact before birth. Don’t worry, as your baby grows and moves around more, his legs and feet will straighten out on their own.
Swollen Genitals and Breasts
Now, I’ve seen testicles in my life and being the owner-operator of a vagina, I feel pretty comfortable in my understanding of how those typically look. So when my son was minutes old, I was fairly surprised (read: completely panicked) to see how disproportionately large his testicles were compared to the rest of his body. (I may have scream-cried Is that normal?!? to the poor unsuspecting nurse.) The labor and delivery nurse assured me not to worry - it’s typical for some of the mother’s hormones to pass to the baby before birth resulting in swollen breasts (for both baby boys and baby girls) as well as for a fluid-filled sac surrounding the testicles to develop, making them seem large. The swelling often resolves on its own within a few weeks so there’s often no need to panic. Whew! (And I’m sure when my son’s older he will love that I’ve shared this anecdote.)
Don’t be alarmed if your sweet baby’s skin starts to remind you of a teenager’s. Baby acne, also known as milia, appears as tiny white bumps usually on the cheeks, nose and forehead. It’s harmless and often resolves on its own within a few months, but can be concerning if you’re not familiar with it. No need to break out the acne treatments and deep cleaning masks!
Some babies, especially those born prematurely, are covered in downy hair known as lanugo. Babies grow lanugo while in the womb and while it’s purpose isn’t totally clear, it may help protect the skin and regulate body temperature. Found mostly on the shoulders and back after birth (though it can be all over) it usually wears off within a few weeks. Again, somewhat startling if you’re not expecting it, but perfectly normal.
I know this is completely natural, but it’s a little weird, right? I mean, the cord that nourishes your baby before birth gets cut and kind of scabs over leaving behind a belly button. Amazing and biologically sound, but a little gross, maybe? Anyway, no matter your feelings on your child’s umbilical cord, the little stump can definitely be perplexing and concerning to new parents. The cord stump will first turn yellowish, then brown, and finally black before it falls off. So yeah, if you’re not ready for it, a piece of your newborn essentially rotting and then falling off is pretty concerning - but, rest assured, totally normal! And of course, if it ever does look irritated or problematic, make sure and ask your doctor.
So there you have it - a few of the weird but totally normal things about newborns that you may notice shortly after birth. And like I said before, you may just have big ol’ hearts dancing in your eyes like a giant emoji face and not even see them! But, if you do find yourself wondering if your baby’s eyes are looking a little crossed or her head may be slightly conical, rest assured that it’s completely common and more often than not, no reason for worry. Of course, even if it may be common, if you have any concerns about your baby, make sure to discuss it with your pediatrician - that’s part of what they’re there for!