The Baby’s Appearance & Physiological Changes At Birth

The first questions that most parents ask after confirming or learning the sex of their baby are, “How much does he weigh and how long is he?” Babies weigh an average of 7 to 8 pounds and are from 19 to 21 inches in length. A newborn can lose up to 10 percent of his birth weight. This weight loss is normal, and the weight is usually regained within 2 weeks.

Figure 10.1. The solid line indicates what a newborn's head may look like if it was molded during the birth process. The dotted line indicates the normal shape of an infant's head, which most newborns attain within a few days.

Your newborn's head may be molded from going through the birth process.

Most people do not know what newly born babies look like and expect them all to resemble the Gerber baby. You may be surprised or even concerned over your baby’s appearance upon delivery. Immediately after birth, your baby may appear bluish or gray. Once he starts to cry or begins to breathe, he will become pink. However, his hands and feet may remain slightly bluish for a few hours or even days, and it is more noticeable when he is chilled. Your baby’s head may be misshapen and elongated due to molding that took place during birth. (See Figure 10.1.)

This newborn's eyes are puffy from birth.

This molding is a result of the skull bones overlapping, which eases the passage of the baby’s, head through the birth canal. The head may take a couple of days to become rounder. The baby’s head may also exhibit swelling, or caput succedaneum, which could last for several days. If the doctor used a vacuum extractor during birth, the swelling will be accentuated.

Your baby’s face and genitals may appear swollen or puffy. This swelling will also subside in 1 or 2 days. His nose may be flattened and his ears pressed to his head.

Many babies are born with a protective cheeselike coating called vernix caseosa.

A cheeselike coating called vernix caseosa may cover your baby’s body. You may notice this coating only in the creases of his skin or under his arms. The closer to term your baby is delivered, the less vernix he will have. This “baby cold cream” protected his skin while he floated in the amniotic fluid. Some mothers prefer to massage the vernix into their baby’s skin to serve as a natural skin conditioner, rather than having it washed off. Your baby may also have some blood on his body. The amount of blood varies from baby to baby.


Your baby’s circulatory system will change at the moment of birth. While he is in your uterus, your baby receives his oxygen from your red blood cells via the placenta. At birth, he will begin to expand his lungs and breathe on his own. Your caregiver may suction his nose and mouth to remove any mucus that may be present and hampering his breathing. The baby’s heart will begin to pump blood to his lungs to pick up the oxygen that he will now be breathing in. After the umbilical cord is cut, certain internal blood vessels that carried blood to and from the cord will no longer be needed and will become ligaments.

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