Your Baby’s First Few Days278
When your baby is born, they will have a quick physical examination to check that there are no major problems that need urgent treatment. Within 72 hours of birth, another more detailed examination will be carried out. Your baby will also have some other routine checks and care.
You will probably spend a large part of the first few days looking at your baby. You'll notice every detail – the colour and texture of their hair, the shape of their hands and feet, and the different expressions on their face. If you notice anything that worries you, however small, ask your doctor. Your baby will be examined by a paediatrician or neonatal nurse practitioner to make sure everything is all right.
Cord care (the belly button)
Shortly after birth, the doctor will clamp the umbilical cord close to your baby’s belly button (navel) with a plastic clip. They then cut the cord, leaving a small bit of it with the clamp attached. The cord will take about a week to dry out and drop off. Keep the baby’s navel clean and dry until this happens. If you notice any bleeding or discharge from the navel, tell your nurse, health visitor or doctor.
On the top of your baby’s head near the front is a diamond-shaped patch where the skull bones haven’t yet fused together. This is called the fontanelle. It will probably be a year or more before the bones close over. You may notice the fontanelle moving as your baby breathes. You needn’t worry about touching or washing it because there's a tough layer of membrane under the skin.
Bumps and bruises
It’s common for a newborn baby to have some swelling and bruises on the head, and perhaps to have bloodshot eyes. This is just the result of the squeezing and pushing during birth and will soon disappear. But if you're worried, you can ask your doctor about it.
Birthmarks and spots
Once you begin to look closely at your baby, you’ll probably find little marks and spots, mainly on the head and face. Sometimes there will be larger marks. Most of them will go away eventually. Ask the doctor who examines your baby if they will disappear completely.
Most common are the little pink or red marks that some people call stork marks. These V-shaped marks on the forehead and upper eyelids gradually fade, though it may be some months before they disappear. Marks on the nape of the neck can last for much longer, but they will be covered by hair.
Strawberry marks are quite common. They're dark red and slightly raised. They sometimes appear a few days after birth and gradually get bigger. They may take a while to go away, but normally they eventually disappear. Spots and rashes are very common in newborn babies, and may come and go. But if you also notice a change in your baby’s behaviour, for example, if your baby isn't feeding properly or is very sleepy or very irritable, tell your doctor or health visitor immediately.
Your baby's skin
At birth, the top layer of your baby's skin is very thin and easily damaged. Over the first month (or longer in premature babies), your baby's skin matures and develops its own natural protective barrier. Vernix (the white sticky substance that covers your baby's skin in the womb) should always be left to absorb naturally. This is a natural moisturiser, and it protects against infection in the first few days. Premature babies' skin is even more delicate. Staff in the neonatal unit will advise you on skincare. Find out more about care for babies who need special care.
If your baby is overdue, their skin may be dry and cracked. This is because all the protective vernix has been absorbed. Do not use any creams or lotions as they may do more harm than good. The top layer of your baby's skin will peel off over the next few days, leaving perfect skin underneath. Wash your baby with plain water only for at least the first month.
Breasts and genitals
Quite often, a newborn baby’s breasts are a little swollen and ooze some milk, whether the baby is a boy or a girl. The genitals of male and female newborn babies often appear swollen, but will look in proportion to their bodies in a few weeks. Baby girls also sometimes bleed a bit or have a white, cloudy discharge from the vagina. All this is caused by hormones passing from the mother to the baby before birth. It is no cause for concern.
When they're about three days old, many babies develop mild jaundice. This will make their skin and the whites of their eyes look a bit yellow. This usually fades within 10 days or so, but more severe jaundice may need treatment. Find out about treatment for newborn jaundice.
What a newborn baby can do
Babies are born knowing how to suck. During the first few days they learn to co-ordinate their sucking with their breathing. Newborn babies also automatically turn towards a nipple or teat if it's brushed against their cheek, and they'll open their mouths if their upper lip is stroked. Find out about breastfeeding.
They can also grasp things (such as your finger) with hands and feet, and they'll make stepping movements if they're held upright on a flat surface. All these automatic responses, except sucking, disappear within a few months, and your baby will begin to make more controlled movements instead.
Newborn babies can use all their senses. They look at people and objects, especially if they're near, and particularly at people’s faces. They enjoy gentle touch and the sound of a soothing voice, and they react to bright light and noise. They also know their mother’s unique smell quite soon after birth.
See the Birth to five guide for information on looking after your baby as he or she grows up, including sleeping tips, coping with crying, checking your child's development and keeping yourself healthy and well.