What’s the first thing that comes to your mind the moment you think of a newborn? In all probability, you’d picture a cute little adorable baby with rosy cheeks and peaches-and-cream complexion. But in reality, newborns look anything but that. Ask any new mom and she’ll tell how she would have been taken aback on seeing her baby smeared in a cheesy-white layer, blood, and birth fluids soon after delivery. Even after being washed, newborns continue to wear a look that comes across as funny. Now, you must be curious to know why babies look as funny as they do. Here’s why…
Let’s start with the face. You might notice that a newborn’s face might look pudgy and puffy, somewhat like a cute little popcorn kernel. This is due to the fluid that accumulates around their face while they are still inside the womb. Even otherwise, the rough ride outside the womb is bound to leave some signs on your little one’s face. However, your newborn’s face would change considerably for the better with each passing day soon after birth (1).
Right at the onset, a newborn will find it a tad difficult to open the eyes. Their eyelids might even look a bit swollen. And once they start looking around, most new parents might be surprised to find that their baby’s eyes looking a bit crossed at times. This is because babies find it hard to focus at first, giving their eyes a crossed appearance now and then for the first 2 – 3 months (2).
It is quite common to find newborns with distorted ears. This may be due to their position in the uterus. Since the baby is yet to develop thick cartilage that gives firm shape to the ears, it’s not unusual to find newborns being born with folded or misshapen ears. However, the ears may take a definite shape once cartilage hardens (3).
The most striking feature about a newborn that’ll immediately catch your attention (perhaps for the wrong reason) is their head. Newborns usually have misshapen heads that might look elongated or even pointed, like an alien. A newborn’s skull consists of separate bones which eventually fuse during the birthing process to make it easy for it to pass through the narrow birth canal. At the time of delivery, especially normal delivery, the soft skull bones may fuse or even overlap, giving the head a slightly bizarre appearance. This is known as molding. This unusual appearance of an infant’s head eventually goes away as the skull bones move to give a more rounded appearance to the head. However, infants born through C-section usually do not experience molding (4).
One of the funniest things about newborn appearance would perhaps be their neck. Why? Because it’s hardly visible. But, it is there! It’s just that it gets hidden underneath folds of the skin and cheeks.
Yes, a newborn’s skin looks anything like the one we are often used to seeing in baby pictures. It is not the peaches-and-cream complexion, at least soon after birth. Rather, what you’ll get to see is some amount of peeling of a white, cheesy substance and some fine hair on the arms and back. The white cheesy stuff is called vernix caseosa which is made up of the skin cells that a fetus sheds in the womb and skin gland secretions. It usually gets washed out after the baby’s first bath. The fine hair is known as lanugo and this too sheds off soon after birth (5).
Isn’t it surprising how newborns can look different and funny the moment they are born? Most of these bizarre/funny looks are normal and often temporary and change with time. However, if you do notice something unusual that refuses to go a few weeks after childbirth, then do check with your doctor to ensure everything is right.