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Unexpected features of your newborn

As a parent-to-be, you are in for a whole load of surprises. Some are earth-shattering, and others will barely hit your radar, but you're in for major excitement for at least the next eighteen years. The first shock comes early, when your newborn arrives.

All during pregnancy, you've dreamed about your new baby – you've imagined chubby cheeks, one-tooth grins, and soft tufts of hair. But wait to see what awaits you in the delivery room: don't expect her to look and act like the pictures in advertisements. Those kiddos are usually older, not newborns, and there's a reason for that. A minutes-old child might remind you more of ET than the Gerber kid. She will be funny in colour, if she's delivered vaginally her head will have a squashed look to it, and she grunts, cries, and coughs. The minute you meet your bundle, and for several days after, you'll be wondering what nonsense the baby advertising world was showing you.

Of course, most new mommas are pleased when their wee one arrives, notwithstanding the learning curve and lack of sleep that follows. Maybe that's why nobody tells you the dirty details of what's to come: the not-so-cute features of your loved one are tempered by the good stuff.

But the fact remains: your new arrival has some confusing, gross, and off-putting features you should be aware of to make transition into mommyhood a bit easier. One thing you quickly learn as a new mom is that you need to have a bit of strong stomach.

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7 Babies have weird skin issues. 

People like to wax poetic about the beauty of youth, but nobody shares the secret truth: the very youngest among us suffer some very ugly skin complications. First, though you might not have expected back hair to emerge for your little one until he's middle aged, your special delivery may actually make his debut on the planet looking like he's overdue for a body wax. Rather than the nice, smooth, skin you've been told to expect, babies often have funny fuzzy hair called lanugo on their back, shoulders, and face. Babies that come early are more likely to have lanugo, and will have more of it. Newborns are also covered in a substance called vernix that's said to be waxy or cheesy. It's leftover from the layer that protects skin in the womb. Though the vernix can be removed in the bath, it actually helps protect and preserve your kiddo's very sensitive skin. The hair will likely go away within the first couple of weeks.

As if these charming coatings aren't enough to take in, there are a few other skin issues a new baby may suffer that you should take note of, so you don't find yourself hunting down infant dermatologists in the weeks following your baby's birth:

  • Your baby's beautiful pink glow will very likely give way to baby acne, which could emerge on your babe's skin at 3-6 weeks in age. These will remind you of pubescent breakouts: little whiteheads all over the chin, cheeks, and forehead. Don't plan your newborn photo shoot with your little beauty until this has come and gone: it clears up by itself a week or two after it appears.
  • sometimes dry, whitish skin flakes come off your baby, especially on his hands and feet, and are sometimes accompanied by what looks like a bit of sunburn. Have no fear, it's just your baby's first exposure to earth's air and sun.
  • your healthcare provider will be watching for jaundice, a yellowing of the skin that often occurs until baby is feeding well and regularly, but can indicate other problems

6 Newborns' poop is black and sticky. 

Perhaps, because diaper changes aren't something you've really been early awaiting, this particular newborn characteristic won't shock you. This is one of those ' first' moments that doesn't get put in the baby book. Maybe that's why it's so well-concealed that baby's first poops most closely resemble tar. Rest assured, parents talk freely and in painful detail about the quality and frequency of their kids' excrement, and you likely will, too.

Here's what you'll find: for the first few days while mom's milk comes in, baby's system is still working through what happend in utero. It's during this time that the black (or a nice, dark green) poop is expelled, causing really, really sticky diapers. This type of bowel movement actually has a special name: it's called meconium, and you have to pull out all the stops just to make sure it doesn't stick to baby's soft bum skin. The things you will need to protect you and your baby from meconium:

  • lots and lots of baby wipes
  • some type of barrier cream that's really oily, like Vaseline. You put it on before baby poops, and then after each dirty diaper, to ensure that nothing sticks too firmly
  • disposable diapers. If you are planning to use cloth diapers, put them away until after this stuff has passed. If meconium hits a nice, clean diaper, it will be pretty much written off, because it will be next to impossible to wash off
  • you will also need patience, and a strong stomach

Meconium only lasts a few days before it's all cleared out, but til then you're in for some labour intensive diaper changes. But never fear: after the meconium is all worked out of baby's system, you can look forward to liquidy, seedy, bright yellow poops that often leak out of the diaper. Usually appearing after baby has established a good eating pattern, you will likely be relieved to see the bright yellow poop, even though it may travel all the way up the back of his sleeper to his neck. These loose poos last until baby is on to solid food.

5 The umbilical cord stump. 

If you're like most pregnant moms, you know that your baby is connected to the placenta via an umbilical cord. This is how baby receives nutriets from you, and where his waste travels back for you to get rid of. What you might not know is that the umbilical cord doesn't magically disappear the moment your baby emerges from the womb. When the baby is born, the cord is still attached, and needs to be cut off (perhaps your partner or some other lucky delivery room attendee will get this job). Before it is cut, the cord is pinched with a plastic clip. This lovely accessory stays on for the first day or so, just to make mom and dad's first fumbling diaper change attempts even more farsical (though luckily baby's first diapers are built with a little cutout to accommodate the cord). Then the clip is removed. But the stump stays. The extra appendage is on the baby for, in some cases, about a week. The sequence of events for your baby's umbilical stump is as follows:

  • It has to dry up (read: begin to rot while attached to your child) before it falls off.
  • And it doesn't fall off in a nice, clean break either. It falls off like a scab, hanging from a string of ooze that you're afraid to pull on.
  • Since it's past its expiry date, the cord stump smells quite rancid right before it falls off.

If you're not loving this story yet, buckle up:

  • When the stump falls off, there remains some green, oozy stuff sitting inside your new infant's belly button. That takes some days to go away.
  • When all this has run it's course, your baby's cute belly button appears.

You will have to learn how to properly care for your umbilical stump, but in short you just use some mild soapy water and make sure the thing stays dry. When you're judging your poor wee one on just how gross he is, remember that at this point postpartum your body is probably no picnic either.

4 Strange genital secretions. 

Being a new parent is pretty nerve-wracking for most people, who imagine the myriad of things they could be doing to screw up their child. If you're already a ball of stress bringing your baby home for the first time, imagine opening up her diaper to find a bright red colour inside. This can happen, and it's a really good thing to know about before your baby is born, because being surprised at the contents of a diaper is not the way to go.

Most adults are trained to look at genital discharge with a wary eye. Just as you would rush to the doctor if you had anything unfamiliar coming out of you, genital ooze will be alarming from an infant. Because secretions can be symptomatic of infections and other ailments, mom and dad might be pretty upset at the sight of anything off in baby's nether regions. Be warned: both boys and girls can emit some odd discharge from their genitals in the first weeks of life. They're mainly due to hormones left over from contact with mom, but they can be super disconcerting.

  • Girls can have thick milky discharge, or can actually shed their first uterine lining. Don't worry: your little one has not hit puberty at a record-breaking young age, she's just been borrowing from your hormone stores.
  • Babies of either gender can pee out small, orange spots into the diaper called urate crystals. Our healthcare provider 'forgot' to mention this one to us, and we found brick-orange in his nappy on the first day home. Once baby starts nursing well and is thereby well hydrated, these will stop. Keep an eye on the frequency of urate crystals, and let your healthcare provider know if they continue!

There's one other symptom to be aware of when you venture to change a diaper: genitals can be red and swollen following delivery, lending them a rather ghoulish appearance. Girls' inner and outer labia may be quite enlarged, and little boys' testicles might appear enflamed. Don't worry, this will go away when your baby's body regulates itself.

3 She's probably not the chubby cherubic cutie you were expecting. 

When your baby first arrives, she sleeps most of the time, and when her eyes are open, you get the distinct feeling she can't see you too clearly. Disappointment at the lack of personality is exacerbated by the newborn's lack of plump curves. In fact, in a lot of cases your baby will be pretty skinny, especially in the arms and legs. Before you and your post-baby bod get too jealous of the wee infant, consider this: the lack of fat in her cheeks gives the babe a distinct old-man look. She probably more closely resembles your Great Uncle Ed than the TV-worthy dimply thing you were expecting. And those cute baby clothes you've been washing, sorting, and neatly folding? They won't fit the baby very well at all. Here are some things that will undoubtedly happen to your baby in ill-fitting newborn clothes:

  • baby kicks out of the feet of her sleepers and gets all tied up inside, stretching the clothing and making mom and dad feel bad
  • baby's hands are continually covered by the too-long sleeves of everything she wears
  • baby socks never stay on skinny infant feet
  • since your child will doubtlessly be covered by a blankie of some description, nobody will see the cute clothes anyway.
  • those hats babies are supposed to wear to keep warm always flop over their eyes and make them mad

Baby diapers are usually too big, too, and you have to fold them over to keep them free of baby's unbilical stump, despite the neat cutout designed for the purpose. The kicker is, baby isn't really into eating in the first few days, so baby's destined to be thin for the first bit. Your healthcare provider will be closely monitoring her for the slightest ounce of weight loss or gain. But don't worry: the chub will come with lots (and lots) of feedings (probably when you'd rather be sleeping). In the meantime, you've heard of the phrase “a face only a mother could love”? Well, just you wait to find out what it really means.

2 S/he's not laughing

As you're working your way through the drudgery that can be late pregnancy, it helps to remember why you're putting your body through all the mayhem of having a baby. Having a goal in mind can make the months pass faster. Moms get through it by remembering what they get as a prize for all their hard work: you picture a gummy smile glowing on your baby's cute, chubby face. In your fantasy you're tickling or otherwise entertaining your audience of one, and she reciprocates with a priceless, musical giggle.

Though you might have had a jovial infant in mind, you won't be seeing that kind of behaviour from your wee one just yet. Besides the fact that in the week or so postpartum you will not feel up for entertaining anybody, your baby probably won't even smile until she's about a month old. Your new baby will act more like a surly teenager in the first weeks: she ignores you except to ask for things, and gets mad when she doesn't get her way.

Your baby won't keep up her end of the bargain with that cute baby laugh until about 4 months of age. In fact, during the first few weeks she can barely even see you, and her only interactions are to root around for food, or to cry. When you do finally glimpse baby's first smile that makes all your efforts worthwhile, there are some things you should be aware of:

  • it will be fleeting
  • everybody else will say it's just gas, even though you know your baby is intentionally flashing those gums at you
  • as much as you try to earn the smile, it seems to come and go on its own for the first bit

The absence of a happy baby face can make the first weeks of motherhood all that more trying. Your baby takes and takes and gives very little in return. Because you may have been waiting for that grin to make it all okay, you can take one very important lesson: being a parent can be thankless.

1 She has to learn how to eat. 

Mothers and babies have a wonderful, symbiotic relationship when it comes to breastfeeding. Mothers produce milk and often find nursing their babies to be a relief from overly full breasts, as well as a relaxing experience. At least, that's the story you've been told.

In reality, learning to nurse a baby can be a roaring, screeching, hell on wheels. The first few weeks of feeding a baby can be painful and frustrating. Nursing is natural right? Right. So you think it would be easy. But guess what? Walking is natural, and we all had to learn how to do that.

New moms and babies sometimes have a rough start at breastfeeding, and it takes practice to get it right. Sometimes that means baby's latch can make you sore, and she'll often be fussy until she gets a good feed. Sometimes mom's experience the following discomforts relating to breastfeeding their babies:

  • The words 'nipples' and 'bleeding' should never be used in the same sentence, but if baby doesn't latch correctly, he can pull and stretch parts of your breast tissue and make your nipples enflamed. Some women get dry, cracked nipples, and yes, some even bleed.
  • Engorgement happens when your milk releases but your baby isn't eating well or isn't close by for you to nurse. Your breasts get hard and tender, and feel like they're ready to explode.
  • Right after you start feeling engorged, you'll begin leaking milk. Did you know nursing moms have to wear nipple diapers inside their bra cups?
  • Have you seen the size of those nursing bras? Your boobs will probably grow a size an a half. But your boobs never really go back to their former size even when the milk's all gone. Have you ever seen empty milk bags?
  • A baby who's not feeding well will be a fussy kiddo: morning, noon, and night. Add an unhappy baby to an overtired, frustrated, and sore mom, and you have a recipe for disaster!
  • Many times baby will want to nurse when he's not even hungry. Babies nurse to put themselves to sleep, to get a break from the overwhelming world, or just to pass the time.

All this is likely enough to sell you on bottle feeding, but rest assured: you will work something out for you and your infant!

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