Why You Shouldn't Panic If Your Baby Isn't Cute

Baby not cute

 Tuan Tran/Getty Images

After nine long months of expectation, you’ve finally met your newborn baby! As you settle in to life with your infant, you’ll probably be on the watch for the physical traits that reflect your heritage—whether your eyes, your partner’s chin, or your Aunt Peggy’s nose. It’s a joy to get to know your baby’s signature features.

But what if your little bundle of joy is a little…funny looking?

There’s no need for pangs of parental guilt if you secretly feel the newest member of your family isn’t as adorable as you expected. Obviously, your child’s looks won’t change your love for them. But if you’re wondering if it’s normal to feel your newborn isn’t a candidate for baby modeling, the answer is yes! A number of factors affect infants’ appearance–and many of them are subject to change quickly as your baby grows. Here’s why there’s no need to panic if your baby isn’t utterly physically adorable.

Factors that Affect a Baby’s Appearance 

The fact is, most newborns aren’t as impeccably gorgeous as advertisements, Instagram, and curated family photoshoots might lead you to believe. So what is it that makes some babies emerge from the womb with pristine skin and perfectly chubby cheeks while others look a little more quirky?

“There are many factors that can contribute to a baby’s appearance at birth,” said pediatrician Nazia Sheriff, MD. “Genetics is the key player when it comes to overall physical characteristics such as the skin, eye, and hair color.” 

Granted, your child’s genetic makeup won’t change—but this isn’t the only determinant of their appearance. “The way your baby was positioned in utero can also affect the appearance of some parts of their body initially,” Sheriff said. If your child’s face was pressed against the uterine wall, for example, they may come out looking like they lost a boxing match.

Similarly, other influences can alter the appearance of a baby’s skin at birth. Fluid accumulation in utero can cause your child’s face to look extra puffy immediately after birth. Birthmarks and spots of discoloration on the skin may be especially bright or pronounced in a baby’s early days of life. And, if too much bilirubin has built up in the blood, your little one may be born with the yellowish tinge of jaundice.

Head shape is another common concern among parents of newborns. The mode of delivery can temporarily affect the shape of your baby’s skull. Vaginal delivery often results in the classic “conehead” shape or other uneven patches. Depending on interventions needed at birth, your child may even have head lumps (known as caput succedaneum).

Meanwhile, some newborns can be surprisingly hairy. Lanugo, the downy, fuzzy hair that covers many infants (especially preemies) at birth, can come as a surprise to new parents who may have expected “baby-smooth” skin.

Weird Things Babies Do

In addition to their idiosyncratic looks at birth, tiny humans aren’t exactly bastions of etiquette and refinement, either. If you’re used to hanging out mostly with adults, some of your little one’s behaviors may strike you as pretty strange.

Babies may cross their eyes as they learn to focus, startle at the slightest noise, and make odd noises, from gurgling to belching. And then, of course, there’s all the stuff that comes out of them—bodily fluids like drool, poop, and pee come in abundance with your infant.

Though some of your baby’s behaviors and bodily excretions may be off-putting—and less than adorable—it’s important to remember that these are par for the course from their little, developing bodies and brains. 

How Babies’ Looks Change in the First Year

Arguably, children change more in the first year of life than during any other twelve-month period in life. If you’re concerned about your baby’s looks, wait awhile. You can expect some pretty dramatic changes in a relatively short period of time.

For one thing, babies gain lots of weight during the first year of life—typically doubling their birth weight by five to six months and tripling it by one year. This rapid weight gain can significantly alter their appearance, filling out your baby’s frame and producing adorable chubbiness.

Other changes come even more quickly. Bruising on your child’s face from cramped positioning in the womb should fade within days of birth, and unusual head shape and those head lumps may also begin to resolve in the first few days of life. If your child has a flat or otherwise uneven head shape, proper positioning and tummy time can help their skull take on a more rounded form. (However, if you have concerns about baby’s head shape or wonder if they might need a helmet to rectify head shape, talk to your pediatrician.)

Lanugo, too, doesn’t take long to fall off. A few weeks into your baby’s life, this fine, fuzzy hair should begin to be replaced with the normal body hair of childhood called vellus hair. Meanwhile, the hair on their head will start to fill in, too.

Even skin tone may change not long after birth. “After a baby is born, his or her body will start to secrete melanin,” says Sheriff. “This will determine their skin color in the first few months of life.” Yellowish skin from jaundice will likely fade even faster, typically within one to two weeks after birth. And according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, vascular birthmarks (the flat pink or red kind) usually go away on their own by toddlerhood.

Eye color, too, can take some time to develop fully. “You might see eye color changes, especially in grey or blue-eyed babies, starting at around 6 months of age, and can take a couple years to get to their final color,” Sheriff said.

A Word from Verywell 

There’s a vast spectrum of what’s normal for infants’ appearance, and babies change immeasurably from month to month. In a few years, you may hardly recognize the little babe you now hold in your arms. And in the end, their looks aren’t the most important thing in life. Talk to your doctor if you have concerns about your baby’s appearance. Meanwhile, soak up the joys of adding a precious new life to your family.

By Sarah Garone
 Sarah Garone, NDTR, is a freelance health and wellness writer who runs a food blog.