Physical Characteristics of a Newborn Baby

The image of newborn babies is largely distorted by the media. We see chubby, bright-eyed, smiling babies. This means that when your baby is born, you might be in for quite a shock as to what a real, healthy newborn looks like in person. This is a guided tour of some of the elements of newborn appearance that might surprise you.

What a newborn baby looks like is not a baby model. It's not a smiling, well-coordinated little person. What a newborn baby looks like varies from baby to baby in terms of weight and length. These photos will show you what a newborn baby looks like in terms of what's common in newborn babies.


Umbilical Cord Stump

The umbilical cord stump will have a cord clamp on for a few days.
The umbilical cord stump will have a cord clamp on for a few days.


Let's start with the umbilical cord stump. This is where the cord was cut. A cord clamp is placed on the stump to prevent your baby from bleeding through the umbilical cord stump. It is sometimes then dyed with an antibiotic stain. This may make it look purple or blue. The cord clamp usually is removed by the time you are ready to go home from the hospital or by the second day if you had a home birth or birth center birth.



Newborn baby girl at birth

Moment Open / Getty Images

Vernix is a ​cheese-like substance that covers your baby's skin. Every baby is covered in vernix, even if you don't see it at birth. Vernix helps protect the baby's skin from amniotic fluid. Most of the vernix will disappear by the time of birth. The earlier your baby is born, preterm or late preterm, the more vernix you will see. The last place for vernix to be found is usually in the folds of skin, like the armpits or in the ears.


Stork Bites and Angel Kisses

Stork Bite 7 day old baby

K. Weiss

Stork bites and angel kisses are terms for red discoloration of the skin on a newborn. They are also known as nevus simplex or salmon patches. Angel kisses are usually found on the forehead or on the eyelids, while stork bites are typically on the back of the baby's neck.

Some parents are really upset by the appearance of stork bites and angel kisses. These usually fade over time, though sometimes the area will return to a red color if the person is upset.


Blue Hands and Feet

Newborn with Blue Hands


A newborn baby often has blue hands and feet, known as peripheral cyanosis (acrocyanosis). This blue tinge is the result of decreased blood flow to that area of the body. This is where most babies lose points on the APGAR scoring. Blue hands and feet in a newborn is not a problem.


Misshapen Head

parent cradling a newborn's head

Lloret / Getting Images

Molding is the term used to describe the look to your baby's head after birth when it's a bit misshapen. As your baby is coming down into the pelvis, the fetal skull will actually alter its shape to fit. The plates of bones in your baby's head slide over one another. This will resolve itself within a day or two after birth.



Lanugo covers the baby from early on in the womb.

Marshall Turner /

Lanugo is the first hair produced by the baby's hair follicles. Lanugo is soft and downy like. It appears during pregnancy in week 19 and begins to fall off before birth. At birth, you can sometimes see some spots that still have lanugo. This might be the face, near the sideburns or ears. You can also see it on the back and top of the buttocks.


Puffy Eyes

Newborn Baby with Puffy Eyes

Ivonne Wierink /

After your newborn is born, you may notice that they have puffy eyes. This is pretty typical of labor and birth. Pressure on the baby's face causes some swelling that goes down fairly quickly. Some newborn babies may actually have small broken blood vessels in the whites of their eyes, also from birth. This goes away as well.

Most babies will have antibiotic ointment put in their eyes close to the time of birth. This can leave a gel-like substance on their eyes. This is done to prevent infections in the eyes.



Father touching head of a premature baby in incubator
cdwheatley / Getty Images

This is a collection of blood between your baby’s skull bones and a tough thin tissue called the periosteum, which surrounds the bone (almost like shrink wrap). Cephalhematoma most commonly occurs over the parietal bone and occipital bone. You might notice that your baby has a bump on their head.

Cephalhematoma occurs in 0.2% to 2.5% of all live births but is more common after birth with forceps or vacuum extraction or long labor.

Your pediatrician may decide to do nothing or may order an ultrasound or other exam based on the size and findings of the area. This will rule out other complications like a skull fracture. It can take two weeks to three months for this bump to go down, this happens as the blood slowly reabsorbs back into the body.

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4 Sources
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