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What newborns look like

Babies look different at birth. This is normal, but It can be surprising if your baby looks red or wrinkled. Learn about variations in a newborn's appearance.

Your first glimpse of your newborn baby will be an incredible experience.

It can also be a little surprising if you have not seen a newborn baby before. They are often wet, wrinkled and red.

Initial examination of your baby

Immediately after birth, your midwife or paediatrician will examine your baby. Each newborn baby is carefully examined at birth.

The purpose of this examination is to identify any complication or problem early. No two babies look the same - except some identical twins. There are many normal variations in a newborn baby's appearance.

Normal variations in appearance

Some of the normal variations in the appearance of newborns include:

Dark red or purple appearance

Newborn babies often have a dark red or purple appearance. This begins to fade over a few days.

Vernix

Vernix is a white greasy substance that covers the skin of many newborn babies. This is a natural moisturiser and protects against infection in the first few days. It will absorb naturally during the first week.

vernix
Vernix

Moulding

This describes the long shape of a newborn baby's head. The bones of a newborn baby's skull are soft and flexible, with gaps between the plates of bone.

When a baby is born in a head-first position, pressure on the head in the birth canal may mould the head into an oblong shape. These spaces between the bones allow the baby's head to change shape. Depending on the amount and length of pressure, the skull bones may even overlap. This returns to a more normal shape after one week.

Erythema toxicum

Some newborns have a red rash on their chest and back, known as erythema toxicum. This will disappear after a few days.

Mottling

The hue and colour patterns of a newborn's skin may be startling to some parents. Mottling of the skin, which is a lacy pattern of small reddish and pale areas on the skin, is common. It is due to normal, varied blood circulation at the skin's surface.

Dry and scaly skin

Babies who are born after their due date can have dry, scaly skin. This does not need treatment.

dry_baby_skin

Lanugo

Some babies are born with soft, downy hair all over their bodies. It grows from foetal hair follicles during the second trimester. Most babies lose their lanugo in the womb at 32 to 35 weeks where it falls off into the amniotic fluid.

Milia or 'milk spots'

Milia are tiny, hard, white spots that look like pimples on a baby's nose. They are sometimes called milk spots. They come about due to the oil glands. They don't need treatment and will disappear on their own.

Related topic

Caring for your baby's skin

Birth marks

Birth marks are beyond your control. They are not caused by anything done or not done during pregnancy.

There are two types of birth marks with different causes.

Vascular (blood vessel) birthmarks happen when blood vessels do not form in the right way.

Pigmented birthmarks are due to an overgrowth of the cell that creates skin pigment (colour). Many disappear without treatment. The most common pigmented birthmarks are Mongolian spots and café-au-lait spots.

Mongolian spots

Mongolian spots are very common in any part of the body of dark-skinned babies. They are flat and grey-blue in colour -  almost looking like a bruise. The spots can be small or large.

They occur when some pigment doesn't make it to the top layer when the baby's skin is being formed. Most of the spots fade by two years of age. Most completely disappear by age 5.

Café-au-lait spots

Café-au-lait spots can occur on any area of the body. As with any birth mark, a doctor will examine your baby. Follow-up reviews may be necessary.

Jaundice

Neonatal jaundice is a common and usually harmless condition in newborn babies. It causes yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes. The symptoms of newborn jaundice are usually seen two to three days after birth.

Most babies get better without treatment by two weeks of age. A doctor will examine your baby for signs of jaundice. This will happen during the newborn physical examination.

If your baby develops signs of jaundice after 72 hours, contact your GP, maternity hospital or public health nurse.

Related topic

Jaundice in newborn babies

Page last reviewed: 26/03/2018
Next review due: 26/03/2021