Physical Characteristics of a Newborn


The Head


●     The Soft Spot



A diamond shaped soft area felt on top of the baby’s head may be wrongly assumed to be a birth defect. There is however, no reason to worry. Although soft to the touch, it is not a weak spot liable to injury, because below its skin there lays a tough membrane, which fully protects the brain. This soft spot will gradually diminish in size and disappear between 1 and 1 ½ years of age as the skull bones slowly get united.


●     Bumps, Lumps, and Bruises



A smooth, diffused, sometimes bluish, boggy swelling may be felt on a part of the head. This swelling (medically termed as caput) is the result of pressure on the baby’s head during a difficult delivery as the baby is born with his head coming out first. It generally does not require any treatment and disappears in a few days.


●     The Cradle Cap



Thick white or yellowish crusts and scale may be seen on the scalp, which cannot be removed easily. This is a type of dandruff of the scalp. You should wash the baby’s head regularly.




●     Sucking Blisters



A baby may have thick button-like, firm, whitish blisters over the center of his upper lip. These are the result of the baby’s sucking efforts while in the mother’s womb. These gradually subside on their own.


●     Tongue-Tie



Many mothers get over concerned if the baby does not stick his tongue out appreciably. Their anxiety about the baby having future problems with speech and difficulties in feeding are, however, misplaced and unwarranted. As the tongue grows with age, it does so predominantly in the front portion, with the result that it assumes a normal appearance later.


●     Pearls



You may notice a few little white, raised spots near the mid-line on the roof (palate) of the baby’s mouth. These are harmless cysts, medically called the ‘Epstein pearls’ and may also sometimes be seen on the gums.


The Eyes


●     The Wet Eye



Normally the tears, which form in the eye to prevent the eye surface from becoming dry, keep flowing through a narrow duct into the nose. In about 2 % of babies there is an inborn narrowing or obstruction in the tear passage in one or both eyes. In such cases the eyes of a few days old baby look constantly wet or full of tears. In some there may be constant overflow of tears, or persistent collection of clear or yellowish, thick discharge. The skin around the eyelids may sometimes become red and cracked.


This condition is managed by doing light massage over the inner angle of the eye near its junction with the nose two to three times a day, taking care to avoid injuring the eyes. This is done with a view to assist in the natural process of gradual clearing up of the blocked passages.


●     Birth Marks



Many normal newborn babies have little pink or red spots looking like ‘stork bite’ marks on their face and nape of the neck due to dilated blood vessels. On the face they occur mainly over the eyelids, the middle part of forehead and the upper lip. The patches over the face disappear in a few months. Those over the back of the neck may persist but later get covered over by hair.


Some other types of patches due to a variety of malformations of skin blood vessels may also appear. Regular follow-up under supervision of a doctor is advisable. Some of them may require active treatment, either when they become large or impinge on neighbouring vital structures (like the eye, feeding and respiratory passages) or when they develop some complications.




A number of babies develop a yellow skin colour and yellowishness in the whites of their eyes due to jaundice on about the third day after birth. It may increase over the next 2 or 3 days and then it subsides by the 7th to 10th day. This type of jaundice appears within 24 hours after birth or becomes severe or continues to persist beyond 10 days, the baby would require proper investigations and treatment. Most moderate cases respond to ‘phototheraphy’ during which the bay is kept under blue lights. Cases of severe jaundice, (usually due to Rh haemolytic disease), may require exchange blood transfusion.


The Umblicus (Navel)


Immediately, after birth, the umbilical cord is cut and tied. The remaining cord stump takes about a week to 10 days to shrivel and drop off. You should keep the navel clean and dry by leaving it exposed to air. Clean it with spirit twice daily or apply triple-dye as advised by your doctor. If you notice any redness around the umbilicus or yellow discharge, consult your doctor.


Bow Legs


When the legs of a normal baby are straightened out, they look curled with their convexity outwards, giving an appearance of bowed legs. It is normal at this age. You need not worry about the baby possibly having any bone deformity or disease.