Your pregnancy and baby guide

Getting to know your newborn

You'll probably spend a large part of the first few days after birth looking at your baby.

If you notice anything that worries you, however small, speak to 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 in their first 72 hours. Among other things, their eyes, heart, hips and testicles (in boys) will be checked for possible problems.

In their first few weeks, you baby will also have the:

Umbilical cord care

Shortly after birth, the midwife will clamp your baby's umbilical cord with a plastic clip, close to the belly button. The midwife will then cut the cord – or your birth partner may like to do this – leaving a small part, with the with the clamp attached.

The cord takes about a week to dry out and drop off. Keep it clean and dry until it does. If you notice any bleeding or discharge, tell your midwife, health visitor or GP.

Fontanelles (soft spots)

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 their 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.

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 for 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 while in the womb, should always be left to absorb naturally. It's a natural moisturiser that also 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 before they were born.

Don't 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, but their vision isn't very focused. Their eyesight develops gradually over the first few months.

By the time your baby is 2 weeks old, you'll probably notice their eyes following your face or a colourful object held about 20cm 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 normal in a newborn. It should go away by 3 months. Talk to your health visitor or GP if it doesn't.

Bumps and bruises

It's common for a newborn baby to have some swelling and bruises on their head, and perhaps bloodshot eyes.

This is caused by squeezing and pushing during birth, and is particularly common in babies who have been delivered by forceps or ventouse. It will soon disappear but, if you're worried, you can ask your midwife about it.

Birthmarks

The most common birthmarks in newborns are the little pink or red V-shaped marks on the forehead, upper eyelids or neck that some people call "stork marks" or "salmon patches". They gradually fade, but it may be a few months before they disappear completely.

Dark red and slightly raised "strawberry marks" (infantile haemangioma) are quite common. They sometimes appear a few days after birth and gradually get bigger. They may take a while to go away, but they usually disappear gradually.

See more about birthmarks.

Newborn spots

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

Breasts and genitals in newborns

Quite often, a newborn baby's breasts are a little swollen and ooze some milk, whether they are a boy or a girl.

Both boys' and girls' genitals often appear swollen initially but will look normal within 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.

Boys' testicles develop inside their body and sometimes take a while to descend into the scrotum. A health professional will check whether they have descended as part of the newborn physical examination.

Jaundice in new babies

When they're about 3 days old, some babies develop mild jaundice. This will make their skin and the whites of their eyes look a bit yellow. It's caused by pigments released during the breakdown of old red blood cells.

It's more common in babies delivered by forceps or ventouse. It usually fades on its own within about 10 days, but more severe jaundice may need treatment.

Find out how newborn jaundice is treated.

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

What your newborn baby can do

Reflexes

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 these reflexes, except sucking, disappear within a few months.

Senses

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 may be startled by bright lights or loud noises.

They also recognise their parents' unique smells and voices soon after birth.

Media last reviewed: 29/10/2016

Media review due: 29/10/2019

Page last reviewed: 20/02/2018
Next review due: 20/02/2021