Pregnancy and baby

Getting to know your newborn

How do I take care of the umbilical cord stump?

Media last reviewed: 20/03/2014

Next review due: 20/03/2016

You will probably spend a large part of the first few days after birth looking at your baby. You'll notice every detail – the colour and texture of their hair, the shape of their hands and feet, and the different expressions on their face.

If you notice anything that worries you, however small, ask your midwife.

Within the first 24 hours, a health professional will offer to give your baby an injection of vitamin K. This is to prevent a rare but serious blood disorder.

Your baby will also have a thorough newborn physical examination carried out by a midwife, doctor or neonatal nurse practitioner in their first 72 hours. Among other things, their eyes, heart, hips, and (in boys) testicles will be screened for possible problems.

Your baby will have two other screening tests in their first few weeks. These are:

Umbilical cord care

Shortly after birth, the midwife will clamp the umbilical cord close to your baby's belly button (navel) with a plastic clip. They then cut the cord, leaving a small bit of it with the clamp attached (or your birth partner may like to do this).

The cord may take about a week to dry out and drop off. Keep your baby's navel clean and dry until this happens. If you notice any bleeding or discharge from the navel, tell your midwife, health visitor, or GP.


On the top of your baby's head near the front is a diamond-shaped patch where the skull bones haven't fused together yet. There is another smaller soft spot towards the back of your baby's head. These are called the fontanelles.

It will probably be a year or more before the bones close over. There's no need to worry about touching or washing the fontanelles because they are covered by a tough protective membrane.

Bumps and bruises

It's common for a newborn baby to have some swelling and bruises on their head, and perhaps to have bloodshot eyes. This is caused by squeezing and pushing during birth and will soon disappear. If you're worried, you can ask your midwife about it.


Once you begin to look closely at your baby, you'll probably find little marks and spots, mainly on the head and face. Sometimes there will be larger marks. Most of these birthmarks will go away eventually. Ask the health professional who examines your baby after they are born if they will disappear completely.

Most common are the little pink or red marks that some people call stork marks. These V-shaped marks on the forehead and upper eyelids gradually fade, though it may be some months before they disappear completely. Marks on the nape of the neck can last for much longer, but they will be covered by hair.

Strawberry marks are quite common. They're dark red and slightly raised. They sometimes appear a few days after birth and gradually get bigger. They may take a while to go away, but normally they eventually disappear.

Newborn spots

Spots and rashes are very common in newborn babies, and may come and go. But if you also notice a change in your baby's behaviour – for example, if your baby isn't feeding properly, or is very sleepy or very irritable – tell your midwife or GP immediately.

Your baby's skin

At birth, the top layer of your baby's skin is very thin and easily damaged. Over the first month (or longer in premature babies), your baby's skin matures and develops its own natural protective barrier.

Vernix (the white sticky substance that covers your baby's skin in the womb) should always be left to absorb naturally. This is a natural moisturiser and protects against infection in the first few days.

It's best to bath your baby with plain water only for at least the first month. If you need to, you can also use some mild, non-perfumed soap. Avoid skin lotions, medicated wipes, or adding cleansers to your baby's bath water.

Premature babies' skin is even more delicate. Staff in the neonatal unit will advise you on skincare.

Find out more about babies who need special care.

If your baby is overdue, their skin may be dry and cracked. This is because all the protective vernix has been absorbed in the womb. Do not use any creams or lotions as they may do more harm than good. The top layer of your baby's skin will peel off over the next few days, leaving perfect skin underneath.

Eyes in newborns

Your newborn's eyes will be checked shortly after birth as part of their newborn physical examination. New babies can see, although their vision may not be completely focused. Their eyesight develops gradually over the first few months.

By the time your baby is two weeks old, you'll probably notice their eyes following your face or a colourful object held about 20cm (eight inches) away. If they don't seem to be doing this, mention it to your health visitor or GP.

Your newborn's eyes may roll away from each other occasionally. This is called a squint and is quite normal in a newborn. It should resolve by three months. If it doesn't, talk to your health visitor or GP.

Breasts and genitals in newborns

Quite often, a newborn baby's breasts are a little swollen and ooze some milk, whether the baby is a boy or a girl. The genitals of male and female newborn babies often appear swollen, but will look in proportion to their bodies in a few weeks. Baby girls also sometimes bleed a bit or have a white, cloudy discharge from the vagina. All this is caused by hormones passing from you to your baby before birth. There's no need to be concerned.

Baby boys' testicles develop inside the abdomen and sometimes take a while to descend into the scrotum. A health professional will check whether or not they have descended as part of the newborn physical examination.

Jaundice in new babies

When they're about three days old, some babies develop mild jaundice. This will make their skin and the whites of their eyes look a bit yellow. This is caused by pigments released during the breakdown of old red blood cells. It usually fades within 10 days or so, but more severe jaundice may need treatment.

If your baby develops jaundice in their first 24 hours, they should be checked by a health professional straight away.

Find out how newborn jaundice is treated.

What your newborn baby can do

Babies are born knowing how to suck. During the first few days they learn to co-ordinate their sucking with their breathing during feeding. Newborn babies also automatically turn towards a nipple or teat if it's brushed against their cheek, and they'll open their mouths if their upper lip is stroked.

Find out about breastfeeding in the first few days.

Your newborn can grasp your finger with their hands and toes. They'll also make stepping movements if they're held upright on a flat surface. All of these reflexes, except sucking, disappear within a few months.

Newborn babies can use all their senses. They look at people and objects, especially if they're near, and particularly at people's faces. You may notice your baby trying to mimic your facial expressions. They enjoy gentle touch and the sound of a soothing voice, and they react to bright light and noise. They also recognise their parents' unique smell and voices quite soon after birth.

Page last reviewed: 05/02/2015

Next review due: 05/02/2017


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