We think we are prepared. The onesies are washed and put away in the drawers, the nursery is painted and ready, and the infant car seat is installed in the backseat, but once that baby comes, we realize just how much we don’t know!
Here are a few tips about newborns, so you are not caught off guard.
1. Newborns have two soft spots on their heads.
Don’t be alarmed. Soft spots, also called fontanels, are not as scary as they seem. They will have one on the top of their head and a smaller one near the back of their head. Soft spots exist so that their skull can be flexible through the narrow birth canal. You cannot hurt them if you touch their soft spots. A thick protective membrane is under the skin-protecting their brain. Soft spots will fill in as his skull grows and comes together over the next several months. The small spot near the back of their head will close around eight weeks, and the area on the top of their head will close between twelve and eighteen months.
2. Some parts of your newborn’s body will be covered with a thin layer of dark hair called lanugo.
This occurs in early gestation when they don’t have enough body fat to keep them warm. The hair helps them regulate their body temperature while in utero, and most babies are born with parts of it remaining. This hair will fall off over the first two months.
3. Newborns do not “sleep like a baby.”
They will make grunting noises in their sleep, squirm around a lot, grimace, and even show the startle reflex for no apparent reason. You will also hear very irregular breathing (see number 4 below). This is no cause for alarm. The startle reflex and facial grimaces can be a response to internal stimuli such as a little belly gurgle or gas. Newborns are very sensitive and are not calm, quiet sleepers yet.
4. It may seem like your newborn is out of breath or not breathing.
Newborns do not have a coordinated respiration system. Their average breaths per minute are 40-60 (while an adult is 12-16), so newborns may always seem to be breathing heavily. While sleeping, newborns may breathe even more rapidly and unevenly. They may take several very shallow, quick breaths, followed by a pause when they are not breathing at all. Don’t panic. It is normal for their breathing to be very irregular.
5. Newborns may be cross-eyed.
The tiny muscles around a newborn’s eyes are not coordinated at birth. Those muscles need to develop like all the other muscles in their body. Their eyes won’t work in unison until those muscles strengthen and learn to work together. Newborns are also very near-sighted. They can best see things about ten to 12 inches from their face, and because the rods and cones in their eyes are not yet developed, they cannot see all the colors of the spectrum. They can see contrasting colors such as black and white and red at birth.
A playing card is an excellent, visually stimulating thing for a baby. Put a three of hearts or a six of spades in front of their face and get them to focus on it, then begin to move it in a slow arc and see if they can follow it. Your baby should be able to do this by around four weeks of age.
6. Newborns may have swollen breast tissue.
You will notice that newborn girls (and sometimes boys) will have slightly swollen breasts. This is because of mom’s hormones in the womb and breastmilk. This usually goes away after the first several months.
7. Newborn skin is not picture perfect.
Newborns often have tiny white spots called milia or milk spots on their faces. And they are caused by immature sweat glands. There is nothing you need to do about this. These spots usually go away after a few weeks. Newborns also have peeling and flaking skin. They are born with a waxy coating on their skin called vernix. As this comes off with baths, their skin will look flaky and dry and may even crack around their joints. It does not hurt them and you don’t need to use lotion on their skin. This will resolve after a few weeks.
8. Newborns appear to have a hollow chest.
Our sternum (breastbone) comprises three parts, and you can see this on a newborn because the immature muscles make it look hollow. You may notice a small indentation in the middle of their chest. As they grow and the muscles mature, this indentation will disappear.
These are just a few things that you will learn about your newborn. When you meet your new little bundle, you will learn more than you ever imagined.