Weird but Normal in Newborns

Note the baby's puffy eyes, spit-up stain on shirt, floppy head, and scowl

Note the baby’s puffy eyes, spit up stain on shirt, floppy head, funny ears, and scowl

At the library this afternoon, the children’s librarian cooed at newborn Leone, who was fast asleep in the frontpack on my chest.

“She’s beautiful,” the librarian said.

Actually, I think Leone is funny looking. She has my husband’s ears (they stick out), a broad nose, and a rather pronounced crease in her upper lip.

“She looks so much like a he but I know it’s a she,” her 6-year-old brother–who was hoping she’d be a boy–lamented to me a few days after she was born.

Beautiful or funny-looking, newborns as a demographic category are strange creatures. Some have cone-shaped heads. Others are born with vernix (a white substance that looks like cottage cheese) covering their bodies. They’ve spent the last nine months defying gravity in a hermetic and watery world and they act a little strange once they’re in our world.

Here’s some of what you might be encountering with your alien being:

Blistered lips: From nursing and non-nutritive sucking, your newborn’s lips might start to look chapped and may even scab up and flake off.

Grunting: You thought you were having a baby but really you gave birth to a piglet, one who squeals, squeaks, moans, and grunts. The noises sound strange and can be worrisome, especially if you’re a first-time parent.

Projectile pooping: With Leone it sounds like a volcanic eruption. Newborn poop can travel far, so beware. I was changing Leone yesterday and left her diaperless for half a second. Big mistake. I ended up soaked in poop that squirted three feet and landed all over my clothes.

Stinky stinky farts: The kind of toots that clear a room. Even breastfed babies can have seriously malodorous gas.

Puffy eyes: Leone didn’t have a misshapen head (maybe that’s why pushing was so hard. She didn’t budge so my body had to change shape) but she did look like she’d been in a boxing match when she was born. For the first few days, her eyes were so puffy and swollen I wondered if something was wrong. Now they look like baby eyes instead of Mohammed Ali’s after losing a heavyweight match.

Open-eyed sleeping: REM sleep with OPEN EYES is totally freaky but the Body Snatchers haven’t seized your kid and he’s not suffering from a neurological disease. He’s just dreaming with his eyes open. It looks creepy but it’s perfectly normal.

Opening just one eye at a time: Being born is hard work. Why trouble yourself to open two eyes when you’re myopic anyway and tuckered out from all that being squeezed down the birth canal?

Fast breathing: and a lot of erratic breath-taking. Sometimes Leone sounds like she’s running a marathon. And sometimes she doesn’t. Now we’re being chased by a lion, now we’re forgetting about the whole breathing thing. I guess because a newborn’s little lungs are just getting started with the whole oxygen-carbon dioxide concept? It takes several weeks before the loud, snuffly, erratic breathing becomes more regular. We’re not there yet. It’s weird but perfectly normal (unless your baby’s turning blue, in which case you need to take him or her to the ER…)

Swollen breasts, enlarged testicles: Even vaginal discharge or blood–Leone had discharge and at three weeks old her nipples still look large. Blame it on maternal hormones. (So new dads shouldn’t get too excited that the F2 has large family jewels.)

Tremors: This one freaked me out when I was babysitting for a 3-month-old but babies, little Leone included, sometimes have jiggly jaws or shaky hands. It’s not early-onset Parkinson’s or an indication that anything is wrong. It’s just an immature neurological system smoothing itself out. Weird but perfectly normal.

Interested in reading more? Here are some other posts you might like:

How we chose the baby’s name (with a photo of my mom on her wedding day … to Carl Sagan)
Our birthing story (with no midwife or doctor present)
On not cutting the cord or severing the placenta from the baby
When a baby spits up blood


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