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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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Tags: baby health, blistered lips, newborn behavior, stinky farts, strange breathing, tremors, vernix

Comments (13)

I remember my son had a pointy head because he was born using forceps. What really freaked me out was the fontanelle, which seemed to symbolize his vulnerability. .-= Alexandra´s last blog ..Beach Meditation & Future Event Weekends in Wellfleet =-.
Re: Looks--my father always said that all newborns looked like Winston Churchill. And that was not particularly a complement--the man may have been an achiever, but he wasn't a looker. .-= Vera Marie Badertscher´s last blog ..When Hemingway Traveled to Northern Michigan =-.
I wish I'd read this before having a baby. I can't tell you how many times I called her doctor and said, "Are you SURE this is normal?" It seemed like all of her skin flaked off at one point. I forget what that's called, but it's normal, too. And their eyes cross. That's normal, too. .-= Alisa Bowman´s last blog ..How to Survive the Holidays, Part 2 =-.
Vera, my husband said the same thing after our second daughter was born--and I'm pretty sure he didn't hear it from anyone else. So the deduction may be that all newborns DO in fact look like Churchill. Thank god that doesn't last.
This is wonderful! Babies are definitely a testament to the fact that life is as strange as it is wonderful!!! I also absolutely love this: "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." So beautifully put and so true.
This is a great post, Jennifer. I agree that lots of newborns can look, well, mishapen and sometimes a bit like aliens. One thing not on your list is zits - lots of tiny little whiteheads, kind of resembling a mini teenager in the midst of puberty...
The projectile pooping comment made me laugh--unfortunately because I know from experience that you're right! .-= ReadyMom´s last blog ..Contest deadline almost here! New contest to check out. =-.
My second son had a burst blood vessel in his eye for a few days after the birth. It was definitely strange looking! What's really sad though is how quickly that newborn weirdness fades away because they mature so quickly. With my daughter now 5 weeks old, I'm feeling nostalgic about those first few days and weeks already! .-= Christine at OrigamiMommy´s last blog ..Welcoming Anna =-.
WOW. They really are little aliens, aren't they? I remember visiting a friend two days after she'd had her baby, and his little head was squished to one side because he'd been resting on her body. His head actually conformed to the shape of her arm. SO WEIRD. .-= Stephanie - Wasabimon´s last blog ..Food Blogger Spotlight: Charity Lynne Burggraaf =-.
> Beautiful or funny-looking, newborns as a demographic category are strange creatures. So, so, so true!!! When I gave birth to my son, he looked nothing like me or his dad, and it was a big problem because I was so freaked out by it. We had no magic bonding moment, and it was weeks before I felt like I was really his mom. Once the jaundice went away and the super black hair fell out and the But he was jaundiced, which made him look much darker than we are, with inexplicably black hair and swollen eyes. If only I'd been prepared, I think I would have felt so much more tenderly toward him. It's hard work being born.
Oh my! I learn a lot from you, Jennifer! Never having had a baby I find this fascinating...plus you're quite funny, too. .-= Meredith Resnick - The Writer's [Inner] Journey´s last blog ..The 5-Question [Book] Editor/Publisher Interview: Sheyna Galyan =-.
My son came out with an Easter Island head...his head is no longer so oblong and he's slowly growing into it. But he was a lot more odd-looking as a baby than my daughter was. She was much more cherubic. .-= Candace Walsh´s last blog ..Breastfeeding Triplets: Advice from Successful Moms =-.
You forgot about the grotesquely-shaped skull. How can something so ugly be so adorable at the same time... .-= Judy´s last blog ..Comedones- Treating and Preventing Blackheads and Whiteheads =-.
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