This is how the baby’s appearance changes after birth

The baby spends about 40 weeks in the womb before birth. During this time, it was surrounded by an amniotic sac and about one liter of amniotic fluid. To survive this time unscathed, the fetus develops some protective mechanisms.

These include, among other things, the cheesy skin and the lanugo hair. Many couples who become parents for the first time are amazed at the appearance of their newborn baby. Contrary to expectations, newborns almost always look different than z. B. advertising suggests.

For many parents, the first sight of their newborn is nevertheless a magical moment that they will probably never forget. In this blog article, we explain what parents can expect when they first see their newborn and how quickly their appearance can change after birth.

This is what the baby looks like right after birth

Long before the expected date of birth, the whole family is anxious to see what the baby will look like. Whether it looks particularly similar to its siblings or one of its parents is determined mainly by its genes.

With a 3D ultrasound, you can get a good impression of the baby’s appearance even before birth. In spite of all their ideas, fantasies and wishes, parents of a firstborn child in particular are very surprised to see what their newborn actually looks like.

Due to the long stay in the womb and the way through the narrow birth canal, especially the skin and the shape of the head show clear peculiarities.

Head shape and fontanel

In order for the large head to pass through the narrow birth canal, the skull of the fetus is composed of individual bone fragments. These provide the necessary flexibility so that the skull can survive the birth unharmed.

There are a total of six gaps (fontanelles) between the bones, which are filled with connective tissue to give stability to the skull. The largest fontanelle is located centrally on top of the little head and is shaped like a rhombus. It pulsates and is so large that you can see the baby’s pulse beat. [1]

Immediately after birth, the head is irregularly shaped and elongated. Due to the strong forces that occur during the passage through the birth canal, the head is irregularly shaped and elongated shortly after birth. An approximately normal, round shape of the head develops within the first days of life.

This is how the baby's appearance changes after birth

The rapid growth in the first months of life is also only possible due to the flexible arrangement of the skull bones. The brain, in particular, grows very quickly in the first 12 months of life and doubles in weight by the baby’s first birthday. [2] It takes a correspondingly long time for the child’s final head shape to develop.

In the course of the first weeks of life, many parents observe that the back of the baby’s head flattens out considerably. Due to frequent positioning on the back, the still mobile bone fragments shift and lead to a frequently occurring flat back of the head. It affects about 1 in 300 infants. [3]

Despite this phenomenon, the supine position is still recommended for infants because it has been shown to reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome. [4] Nevertheless, even in the supine position there are some possibilities to change the position of the head slightly so that a one-sided load of the skull is prevented.

Under supervision and while awake, the baby can occasionally be placed on his or her stomach. Turning the head can also be encouraged by placing interesting objects (e.g., toys) in the bag. B. Mobiles, lights) be placed in different places in the room. Thus, the baby turns its head more often in a different direction than the one it normally prefers, all by itself and out of interest.

Many parents also help themselves with special baby head pillows. These have a hole or depression in the middle and are meant to take pressure off the back of your head. However, opinions differ widely on the assessment of these cushions.

Pediatricians and researchers have recommended for years that pillows in the baby’s crib be avoided altogether. Pillows, blankets, stuffed animals or other objects can increase the risk of suffocation or sudden infant death syndrome and thus pose a risk. [5]

On the other hand, on the 131. Surgeons’ congress in Berlin discusses what late consequences can result from severe skull deformities. Experts advocated the use of the special storage pillows at this congress. [6]

Whether such a positioning pillow is suitable and useful is best discussed with the pediatrician. This can balance the risks of cranial deformities and sudden infant death syndrome and help with decision making. If you want to be on the safe side, you can use the storage pad during the day and under supervision.

Skin and skin color

Immediately after birth, the baby’s skin color is usually dark red to purple. With the first breaths, the hue changes to a lighter red, which gives way to the genetically predetermined skin color within the first day of life.

Among other things, skin color is assessed during the first preventive medical checkup as part of the APGAR test. The baby’s hands and feet may initially be bluish even in healthy newborns.

This is how the baby's appearance changes after birth

As the baby develops and maintains circulation, it goes through a major adjustment to life outside the womb. This can last from several hours to days.

At birth, the baby’s skin is covered with what is called cheesy goo. This white layer consists of water, skin fat, hair and various cells. [7] In the womb, it protects the skin from being softened by the amniotic fluid. At the same time, it facilitates the passage through the narrow birth canal as a kind of lubricant.

After birth, the cheese mucosa fulfills further functions. This way, it protects the baby from cooling down too quickly, making it easier to adjust to the much cooler ambient temperatures in the delivery room.

At the same time, the cheese goo forms a natural protective barrier against pathogens and at the same time maintains the moisture balance of the skin. When drying after birth, a large part of the cheese goo is already removed.

The rest is absorbed into the skin and provides it with lasting moisture. Because the substance is odorless and at the same time has a high skin care effect, it is often no longer removed from the skin by immediate bathing. [8]

Neonatal jaundice

Statistically, over 50% of newborns develop neonatal jaundice within the first few days of life. Unlike classic hepatitis, however, this is not an infectious disease.

Because the entire organism undergoes a major change as a result of birth, the internal organs need some time to adjust. Neonatal jaundice is triggered when the newborn’s liver is not sufficiently developed.

Babies with this particular jaundice are mainly conspicuous by a yellowish skin color. The eyeball may also be discolored yellow. The change is usually visible on the second or third day of life and can last for several days.

The most common cause is that newborns are born with a large number of red blood cells. A large number of these cannot be utilized by the body, so they decay.

In the process, the red blood pigment (hemoglobin) is converted into bilirubin. Because bilirubin is metabolized in the liver, many newborns initially have these pigments deposited in the skin. The little matured liver of the newborn needs several days to completely break down the bilirubin.

How pronounced the newborn jaundice is can be determined with a blood test. In many cases, the phenomenon does not require treatment and disappears on its own within about two weeks.

Although neonatal jaundice is harmless in many cases, very high bilirubin levels (18mg/ dl and above [9] ) require treatment to prevent subsequent damage. Light therapy, for example, which converts the yellow pigment bilirubin and then excretes it in the urine, can be used here. [10]

Hair and hair color

The baby’s first hairs are already developing in the womb. The fine hair fuzz is called lanugo hair and provides information about the degree of maturity of the newborn child.

Each lanugo hair is connected with a sebaceous gland, which is responsible for the production of the cheese gland. The special nature of this type of hair ensures that the cheese goo adheres particularly well to the baby’s skin.

The amount of lanugo hair at birth can be used to determine the baby’s maturity. Premature babies are often covered with hair fluff all over their bodies. With normal development, only individual areas of the body are still covered with lanugo hair at birth (z. B. Head, sacrum, shoulder girdle). A large part of the hair fluff regresses in the womb before birth.

This is how the baby's appearance changes after birth

Remaining lanugo hair falls out shortly after birth and is replaced by normal hair growth. The color, structure and quantity of the hair are genetically determined. Nevertheless, the final appearance of hair does not develop until the onset of puberty. [11]

Hair growth

From birth, the hair growth of newborns is about the same as that of adults. The hair grows about 12-15 cm per year. Nevertheless, there can be great individual differences that initially do not give cause for concern.

Some babies are already born with a dense head of hair, while others still have lanugo hair on their heads and accordingly initially stand without any head hair a few days after birth. Some parents find this baby baldness distressing and look for means to stimulate the baby’s hair growth.

With a balanced diet and a healthy development, you certainly create a good basis here. However, the development of the mop of hair can not be accelerated. Home remedies have no proven effect and may even be a risk factor in some circumstances (z. B. Silica [12] ).

Baby hair should be combed regularly. This prevents the formation of knots and improves the oxygen supply to the scalp. For general healthy development, this is beneficial, but again, neither frequent combing nor shaving your head will accelerate hair growth.

Many babies also have a bald spot at the back of the head. Many parents have to listen to criticism about this, suggesting that lying on the back of the head for too long is the cause of hairless patches.

In fact, always lying in the same position makes for more friction. Hair that is already at the end of its life cycle will fall out faster due to increased mechanical stress.

However, this only applies to hair that was about to fall out anyway. Because the hair on the back of the head is already significantly more developed before birth than that in the front of the head, it falls out comparatively earlier.

Due to the advance in growth, it can so happen that a bald spot appears at the back of the head. However, parents do not have to worry about this. This natural process is almost always a completely normal development.

In the course of the first months of life, the growth cycles of the individual areas of the head become increasingly similar, so that only then can an even hair growth be expected on the whole head.

Hair color

Not only the amount of hair, but also its color can be subject to great fluctuations after birth. Some babies are born with light hair that gets darker as they develop. The reason for this is the not yet fully mature development of pigmentation.

In most cases the hair becomes darker after some time. That the hair color changes from dark to light, on the other hand, occurs only rarely. For some children, however, an originally dark head of hair can turn reddish. [13]

The hair structure can also change in the course of development. Because the hair of infants is very fine and thin, it tends to curl. However, these cute baby curls can disappear when the hair grows back stronger.

So it can happen that a baby first has blond curls and after a few months has straight, brown hair on his head. The final appearance of the hair develops only after a few months of life and can change again and again until puberty.

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