Is there anything sweeter and more snuggly than a brand-new baby? The first few days with each of my newborns were bliss. Of course, there was struggle, pain, and lots of emotions. Birth isn’t a picnic.
But those tiny babies. Sigh. They’re perfection. When I think back to the quiet moments with a tiny, wrinkly newborn asleep on my chest, a feeling of calm still comes over me. Newborn babies are a little bit of heaven on earth, especially when they’re yours.
But newborns can also be kind of scary. They’re so small and breakable. They can’t tell you anything! They don’t even always cry when they’re hungry in the very beginning. They’re just totally helpless.
And they can be born with a whole bunch of little, mostly harmless but totally unexpected body quirks that can really throw an unsuspecting new parent for a loop.
A friend of mine recently reminded me that baby girls can be born with a bit of vaginal bleeding, and I realized that if that had happened to my daughter, I might have totally panicked. I’m sure I knew that at some point, but nobody really reminded me of that fact when I was pregnant.
If you’re expecting a baby, and like me, nobody has recently reminded you of some of the less-talked-about things you might encounter when you meet your sweet nugget, have I got a list for you.
Here’s a handy collection of just a few of the unusual-but-usually-harmless things nobody remembered to tell you about newborns.
1. You might not be the only one lactating at first.
Babies of either sex can begin lactating shortly after birth. Some people call this “witch’s milk,” but the medical term is “galactorrhea of the newborn” or just neonatal milk. This is related to hormones, and will resolve itself. You shouldn’t try to express it. Let your pediatrician know that your baby is producing milk, and they’ll keep an eye on it with you.
2. Female babies can have “periods.”
It can be scary to open your baby’s diaper and find blood, but it’s really normal. Some baby girls have a little bleeding, called “false menses” as a reaction to all the hormonal changes at birth. It should only last a couple days. Clean her gently with warm water, alert your pediatrician, and follow their advice.
3. Baby boys can be born with really swollen genitals.
I was in the room when my nephew was born, and we all laughed when my brother-in-law shouted out in his thick Italian accent, “He has big balls!” But he was right. Those suckers were huge, and that’s totally normal. Sometimes, during the birth process, some fluid can collect in the scrotum. It will usually work itself out in the first few months, and your baby will have normal baby balls in no time.
4. Check above that tiny baby hiney for a sacral dimple.
My own son was born with a sacral dimple. It was just a little indentation right at the end of his tailbone, above his tiny butt, but I was worried. Most sacral dimples are benign and cosmetic, but once in a while they can signal a spine abnormality, so your doctor might want to investigate.
5. Don’t panic if your baby’s ear has a tiny pinhole or a little growth in front of it.
These are called preauricular pits and ear tags. You might notice a tiny pit or pinhole just in front of the top of your baby’s adorable ear. This is called a preauricular pit. Like sacral dimples, they’re usually benign, but if they do give your baby any trouble with infection down the line, your doctor can help.
Another thing you might notice about your baby’s nibbly, delicious little ears are small, flesh-colored bumps just in front of the ear. These are commonly called “ear tags,” and they can sometimes be associated with genetic syndromes, but can also appear on their own as tiny, benign growths. Your doctor might recommend having them removed, but a benign ear tag is not a danger to your babe.
6. There are lots of different kinds of birthmarks, and most of them are harmless.
Vascular birthmarks involve blood vessels. Lots of babies are born with angel’s kisses or stork bites. These are cute little nicknames for salmon patches occurring on the forehead or the back of the neck. Most of the time they lighten up and disappear with age. Hemangiomas (also known as strawberries) and port-wine stains are other types of vascular birthmarks that sometimes necessitate intervention, but sometimes don’t.
Pigmented birthmarks, such as moles, café au lait and Mongolian spots are also common and very rarely signal any kind of danger. Some birthmarks can even be covered by a layer of dark hair.
If you see a spot on your baby, point it out to your doctor and they can help you identify it. Even if it needs some attention, it’s almost certainly going to be just fine.
7. Your newborn might emerge from the womb with teeth.
Natal teeth are teeth present at birth. Like many of the other quirky newborn body stuff we’ve covered, these can sometimes signal a deeper issue, but are often just harmless. They will need to be evaluated and possibly removed, but don’t freak out. You babe will be fine.
8. Babies can be born kind of furry.
Babies in the womb are covered in soft, fine hair called lanugo. Usually, it falls out before birth, and your baby is born as smooth as…well, as smooth as a baby’s bottom. If your baby is a little early, and even occasionally in full-term babies, some of that lanugo can hang on, and your sweet little muffin can come out looking a little furry. Don’t stress. It will fall out on its own, and your baby will be smooth and hairless in no time.
9. Count those tiny fingers and toes, and don’t be shocked if there’s an extra.
I asked my friend Sadie, who was a labor and delivery and postpartum nurse for years, what usually surprised parents the most, and without hesitation she said, “Extra digits! It’s not as uncommon as people think!” It’s called polydactyly. It just means your baby has an extra finger or toe. This is not dangerous in and of itself, but the additional digit is often not attached securely and could pose an injury risk. Depending on the exact anatomy of the extra digit, your doctor might recommend a little surgery to remove it. No worries. This can be as simple as a tiny little snip and stitch in the doctor’s office.
This isn’t a comprehensive list, of course. Babies can be full of surprises, and no matter how prepared you think you are, you can never prepare yourself for every single unexpected thing. The great news is, most of these little differences are nothing to be too concerned about. Hopefully knowing ahead of time will make it a little less scary if you come across one of them, and your baby’s doctor can help you navigate the rest!
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