It’s probably the number one thing expecting moms daydream about: what their babies will look like. But from the moment of conception (and even before that), the factors that decide a baby’s appearance are already at play. The most obvious influences over a baby’s looks are his or her parents, of course, but there’s far more to the recipe than just DNA.
As moms, we realize that nearly everything we do has an impact on our kids. Of course, when you’re pregnant, that realization is even more poignant. After all, your baby’s health and his future may depend on your habits. At the same time, your baby’s appearance can also hinge on not only your choice of partner, but also your pregnancy (as well as pre-pregnancy) diet, environment, and more.
We can’t control everything, but there are some ways that parents can influence what their babies end up looking like. While it seems like we’re not too far off from being able to “custom order” a baby with blue eyes and blond hair or grey eyes and dark hair, for now, we’ll have to rely on daydreaming- and those factors that we can control. From diet to DNA, there are a ton of things that influence a baby’s appearance- here are twenty of them.
20 DNA Recipe Roulette
Even without a biology degree, parents recognize that their DNA- along with that of their partner- is most important in determining what the baby will look like. But it comes down to more than just hair and eye color. First of all, both parents contribute genes, but not all of those genes get delivered to the baby.
Your child is ultimately a combination of two sets of DNA; the highlights of both your “recipe” collections. At the same time, your actions as the “incubator” can also influence how the baby’s genes are expressed, Pregnancy Magazine explains. So not only does your DNA do what it wants, your body can also influence the genes’ expression.
19 Drinking The Juice
Though it’s a severe example, it’s worth considering because of the serious effects on your baby. Fetal alcohol syndrome, where mom consumes too much alcohol during her pregnancy, can cause a baby to have a unique appearance. Common signs of fetal alcohol syndrome include wide-set and small eyes, a short nose, and a smooth upper lip, New Scientist explains. The condition can also affect a child’s cognitive development and abilities, so consuming too much alcohol is about more than just changing your child’s looks. Fetal alcohol syndrome can also cause attention and behavioral disorders, plus a lower IQ, in your baby.
18 Subtle Signs Of Shaping
Although you may not over-imbibe while pregnant, modern doctors often give moms the OK to consume a few drinks per week. In fact, some studies suggest there may be benefits to moms drinking a bit of alcohol during their pregnancies. But one study found that even “some alcohol” consumption could affect a baby’s appearance, New Science confirmed.
Although the effects of alcohol weren’t immediately visible in the babies’ faces, researchers found that facial development was affected and could be documented with a 3D analysis that looked at about 70,000 points on each child’s face. The babies didn’t show symptoms of fetal alcohol syndrome, but there were commonalities between all babies whose moms had consumed alcohol during pregnancy.
17 Baby Building Blocks
Ever wonder why medical professionals push prenatal vitamins so hard? It’s because one key nutrient can prevent tons of potential problems in babies. Folate is a critical building block when you’re pregnant, helping to form the baby’s spine. It also has a direct effect on DNA and lack of the nutrient could contribute to childhood cancer.
Moms who are deficient in folate don’t have enough to give their babies, potentially resulting in spina bifida, Pregnancy Magazine notes. Therefore, supplementing with a quality form of folate is ideal for all pregnant moms, and not for vanity reasons in regards to the baby’s appearance.
16 Mom's Travel Habits
Another potential influence on the baby’s appearance has to do with mom’s travel habits during pregnancy. For example, extensive airline travel can expose moms to radiation. As Pregnancy Magazine clarifies, 30 hours of airline travel is equivalent to the radiation exposure of one chest X-ray.
And as we know, based on the need for a pregnancy test before having an X-ray (plus those lead aprons), radiation is less than ideal for a developing fetus. If you plan to travel during pregnancy, you may want to rethink it in favor of avoiding birth defects, a predisposition to cancer in your child, or even miscarriage.
15 Sneaky Recessive Genes
Looking at mom and dad, sometimes it’s easy to predict what their children will look like. But in some cases, recessive genes can come out of nowhere and surprise everyone. For example, as the American Academy of Ophthalmology explains, conditions such as albinism are inherited from the recessive genes of both parents.
Usually, both parents must carry a gene in order for the child to be born with albinism. In fact, if both parents have the recessive gene, they have a one in four chance of conceiving a child who will have the condition. One specific type of albinism can only be passed on to boys, as their moms can carry the gene but the mother’s “version” is inactive.
14 Skin Color Genes
If your family is anything other than Caucasian, you probably recognize this appearance-influencing factor already. Many families who have mixed skin tones also wind up birthing children with varying skin tones. And while strangers may wonder if all the children even share the same parents, geneticists understand the phenomenon all too well.
As Stanford at The Tech notes, it’s most common for dark-skinned parents to have dark-skinned babies and for light-skinned parents to have light-skinned babies. But skin color is affected by more than one gene, so it takes multiple genes to determine a baby’s coloring. In fact, the variation in skin tone among siblings may be caused by a mutation in a specific gene.
13 Pound For Pound
In general, most moms accept that their healthy (or unhealthy) habits can affect their babies. But your physical and food-related decisions before and during pregnancy can also change the baby’s looks. According to Live Science, an obese mom is more likely to birth a baby who will become obese.
And while definitions vary when it comes to the word “obese,” essentially the heavier mom is, the heavier her child may become. However, even if moms weren’t active prior to pregnancy, getting regular exercise can help mitigate the effects of her weight on baby’s long-term health outcomes, along with the child’s physical appearance.
12 Hold The Caff
If you’re the mom who can’t live without her coffee, recent studies may help you cut the habit- at least while you’re pregnant. As Live Science reported, studies have found that caffeine intake during pregnancy can make your baby smaller than normal at birth. And although a smaller baby isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it seems as though caffeine has other negative effects that result in a slimmer baby.
One study noted that even less than 200 milligrams of caffeine per day, which is about two cups of full-strength coffee, still had an effect on babies’ birth sizes. Of course, an excessively large baby isn’t healthy, but neither is a scrawny one who has too much caffeine.
11 Insufficient Sunshine
Although we often slather on sunscreen, most moms recognize the benefits of getting out in the sunshine, at least for a few minutes per day. But a recent study confirmed that many pregnant moms aren’t getting enough vitamin D, Live Science reported. Supplementation is well and good, of course, but getting enough sun every day can help avoid unhealthily low birth weight.
A review of more than 30 studies tied a lack of vitamin D to a higher risk of gestational diabetes, pre-eclampsia, and lower birth weight in babies. Pregnant moms can always opt to have their vitamin levels tested to ensure that they’re not missing key nutrients that could affect a baby’s appearance, size or otherwise.
10 Air Pollution
Everyone appreciates fresh air, especially moms and those who are expecting. After all, we know there are plenty of toxins in our environment that can make us and our children sick.
But did you know that air pollution can even make your unborn baby sick? Live Science explained that a large, international study confirmed that babies born to moms who live where there is a lot of traffic, industry, and dust pollution are likely to have lower birth weights than babies with access to fresh air. However, another study also found that pregnant moms who ate more produce were able to reduce the effects of air pollution- another positive way to influence the baby’s appearance.
9 Dad’s Prenatal Programming
Plenty of couples who are trying to conceive focus on mom’s health and wellbeing. But did you know that dad’s contribution to the pregnancy can have huge effects on the baby? According to The Scope at the University of Utah, the DNA in dad’s sperm can influence not only whether a baby develops, but what traits it has when it exits the womb. Healthy dads, for example, tend to “produce” healthier babies, while dads who are overweight or obese are likelier to have children that are overweight- regardless of mom’s size. Therefore, dads should aim to get in shape before trying to conceive, to ensure the baby is born at a healthy weight.
8 Womb Accommodations
Babies are rather squishy when they’re born and for good reason. If their bones were as hard as an adult’s, they’d receive a few injuries on the way out of the womb. But thanks to those squishy bits, they’re fairly moldable when it comes to positioning on the inside.
Often, babies that are born vaginally arrive with cone-shaped heads, due to being compressed through the birth canal. Other babies might have somewhat lopsided faces from pressing themselves against the uterine wall. Fortunately, most of these positional influences on appearance will fade as babies grow. By as little as a few hours old, most babies begin to take their true shape instead of the cone one.
7 Cord Compression Complications
Although some birth attendants are often in a hurry to cut the umbilical cord after the baby’s arrival, there are plenty of reasons why you shouldn’t. The primary reason for leaving the cord attached until it stops pulsing is so that the baby receives all the beneficial contents of the placenta. In fact, what’s in the placenta is actually blood that belongs to the baby- so it makes sense to let her get all of her own blood back. At the same time, a baby who keeps their umbilical cord a little longer will also look a little pinker. A baby whose cord is cut early, or if the cord is tied in a knot, may look pale and a little sickly.
6 Family History Finds
You already know that regardless of parents’ coloring, babies can be born with their own pigment. Thanks to genetics, DNA is still, in part, a mystery, so there’s no telling what shade your baby may arrive with. However, parents like those of Sandra Laing in 1955 are entitled to their surprise when welcoming a dark-skinned baby, especially considering that they’re both white.
But as The Guardian explained, while Sandra’s story was relatively rare, in the family’s heritage at some point in history, there must have been a dark-skinned person. Sandra was born with dark skin and curly hair, despite DNA testing confirming that her mother and father, both white, were, in fact, her biological parents. Therefore, your family history could play a bigger part in your baby’s appearance than you may have thought.
5 Visible Vitamin Variations
It’s clear that what mom consumes can affect her baby during pregnancy, but what isn’t clear is the total impact that mom’s actions have. For example, scientists have conducted experiments (mostly with rats) to determine how much influence moms have over how their babies develop and grow. As the Naked Scientists explain, preliminary studies suggest that consuming certain vitamins in supplement form may affect how babies’ skin tones emerge.
And while there’s no current guideline for what to eat to have either a lighter or darker skinned baby, it’s safe to assume that what mom eats (or doesn’t) plays into the baby’s skin color more than we know.
4 Happy Mom = Happy Baby
Of course, the most important “appearance” related indicator has to do with how happy the baby is. After all, mom doesn’t care about anything other than her baby being healthy and happy, in the end. And she’ll like the regimen that birthing a happier baby involves- eating chocolate! As The Telegraph explained, one large study found that women who consume chocolate every day during their pregnancies have babies who show less fear and smile and laugh more!
If that’s not a good enough reason to eat chocolate daily, we don’t know what is. There’s also the fact that moms who eat chocolate seem to have a lower risk of preeclampsia- even better for us moms who are also chocolate fiends.
3 Ethnic Origin Indications
Though freckles and moles are common on babies of all ethnicities, there is one unique appearance-related condition that moms of darker-skinned babies often see. Although they used to be termed “Mongolian spots,” that description isn’t as common anymore. But whatever the terminology, the spots involve bruise-like markings on the baby’s skin. For example, my son has a spot that runs along his lower back. For most babies, the spots will grow lighter as they age, but there’s no way to get rid of them completely. And like other factors that influence the baby’s appearance, we have no control over this one- it all depends on your baby’s ethnic origins.
2 Baby’s Lazy Liver
Although most babies appearances’ will change a lot from when they’re born to even a few days later, jaundiced babies have a unique “look.” Jaundice makes babies appear yellowish or even orange, and it’s because their livers are unable to break down the bilirubin that’s in their blood. Therefore, a baby with jaundice, which consists of an underdeveloped or lazy liver, essentially will look a little sickly for the first few days. Thankfully, most babies recover quite well from jaundice just through nursing or bottle feeding frequently. Some babies need a little extra sunlight to help them process the bilirubin, while other babies may need special bilirubin blankets or lights to return to their normal hue.
1 Overdue Or Undercooked
Although it’s completely out of mom’s control, unless she has a scheduled birth, the fact that a baby is overdue or pre-term can influence his appearance. A baby that is born early, for example, will often look hairier than a term infant. That’s because the lanugo- the fine hair on the baby- is for protection while in the womb, and to keep the vernix (waxy coating) stuck on. An overdue baby may also have less vernix and more dry skin, a result of swimming too long in the amniotic fluid. Fortunately, these timing-related factors only influence the baby’s appearance temporarily.
References: Pregnancy Magazine, NewScientist, AAO, The Tech, Live Science, The Scope, BBC, The Naked Scientists, Telegraph, The Guardian