All The Weird Things That Can Happen To Your Baby At Birth: A Doula Explains

Photo by Lea Csontos

That perfect round-headed, squeaky clean cherub making its first neat and tidy appearance into the world is mere myth and Hollywood illusion. Newborn babies rarely come out looking like they do in films and television. Most of the time, TV and movie babies are actually 3-month-olds because they can't use a real newborn on a film set due to the risk of germs and illness. Most people don't get to see newborns fresh out of the oven unless they have given birth themselves or are close to someone who has.

So at first glance, your baby may appear "weird"-looking. Here's what's going on:

1. Your baby will probably be covered in lots of goo.

Surprise! Newborns are not born squeaky clean. Newborns can enter the world covered in blood, urine, amniotic fluid, and vernix. (Let's clarify something here: Babies are not born dirty. The birth canal is far from being a dirty environment. These fluids and healthy bacteria coat the baby and play an important role.) Vernix (vernix caseosa) is a thick cream-cheese-like substance that protects the baby's skin from infections while in the womb. Once the baby is earth-side, vernix moisturizes the skin, regulates body temperature, and helps set up innate immunity. As a birth doula, I often joke that I wish I could use this miracle substance as an under-eye cream. Even the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends leaving vernix intact on the skin surface after birth. You may also find that your baby is covered in poop, or meconium. Never fear! Meconium is the infant's first stool and is dark in color and tar-like. But don’t worry—this first poo is not smelly at all and is thought to be sterile. It’s actually a really good sign that your little one’s bowels are working.

2. Your newborn's head may be a bit alien-like.

It may be shocking at first glance, but fear not: Cone heads are actually pretty normal at birth. Head-molding or oblong-shaped heads tend to shock and surprise new parents. They are often left wondering if this is how their baby is always going to look. It is not. There are two soft bony plates on top of your newborn's skull called fontanels. Fontanels move and compress so your baby's head can pass through the birth canal. It can take anywhere from a few hours to a few days for the baby’s head to return to a round shape. Babies born via caesarean birth very rarely have coning of the head. Be prepared to see these soft spots gently rising and falling in rhythm with their heartbeat. Kinda cool, right?

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3. Your baby might be covered in hair.

Most babies lose their body hair during the final weeks in utero, but some little ones come out covered in a peach fuzz called lanugo. Lanugo is from the Latin word lana, "wool." Lanugo helps protect the skin in utero and makes it easier for vernix to adhere to a baby’s skin. Typically, this hair falls out over several weeks. Personally, I love a hairy little baby!

4. Bumps and bruises may happen.

Bumps, bruises, scratches, and swelling—oh my! Crooked noses, crossed eyes, and folded ears are also temporary physical attributes that can occur on your baby’s journey to the outside world. These will begin to straighten out in a few days or weeks. Swollen breast buds and genitals are also normal due to the birthing person’s estrogen being passed through to the baby’s blood. They may even secrete a little bit of milk. Female babies may have a small amount of blood-tinged mucus from the vagina in the first few weeks. This is perfectly normal.

5. Your newborn may look like a snake shedding its skin.

Your sweet baby's skin is so brand-spanking-new and sensitive. Their feet and hands may get super dry and peely. Newborn babies are prone to baby acne. Rash-like outbreaks are common on their cheeks and backs. These pesky pimples are caused by maternal hormones from when they were still tucked in your womb. The pimples can last anywhere from weeks to months. Time is really the only cure. I often would squirt the outbreaks with a little breast milk. If you are breastfeeding, give it a try! Breast milk cures everything, right? As tempting as it may be, don't pick their pimples! Avoid lotions and any scented soaps. Don't scrub, and do pat dry after washing. Be patient. It just takes time for baby acne to clear.

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6. Why is my baby so red?

When babies are first born, their coloring can range from purple to dark red. Blue fingers, hands, and feet are common in newborns too. Their immature organ and muscle systems are still figuring out how to effectively regulate body temperature and circulation. This is one of the main reasons we keep babies warm with skin-to-skin contact immediately after birth. A yellowish tint may indicate jaundice, which is the body’s response to getting rid of excess red blood cells. Your wee one may need to be watched or assessed if this occurs. At birth, your child's skin is likely to be a shade or two lighter than their eventual skin color. The skin will darken and reach its natural color in the first two to three weeks. Always speak to your health care provider if you are concerned about your baby's coloring.

These six examples are considered weird by some observers because the physical traits can be novel and disturbing to an uninitiated parent-to-be. Once you understand and appreciate the physical wisdom of your newborn's body, you will no longer view these traits as unusual or "weird"; you will most likely regard them as nothing less than normal and "marvelous."

Considering working with a doula? Here's what a doula really does.

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