Below are a few details on how your baby will develop physically over the first few days and weeks of life.
Babies see well at birth. A baby recognizes her mother's face at as early
as three weeks of age. However, newborns can focus clearly only on objects
quite close to them. In the first weeks, doctors cannot easily tell if your
baby can see normally. You can make this observation yourself during the
first several weeks at home. You will notice your baby following faces or a
bright object such as a red ball as they move back and forth slowly in
front of her face. As time goes on, those objects can be farther from her
face and she will still follow them. If your baby does not seem to see by
one month of age, you should inform your pediatric care provider.
Babies can hear even before they are born. This ability usually is most
appreciated by the mother who, while feeding, may see her baby stop sucking
when he hears a sound or a voice. Also he may jump when a door is slammed
or a dog barks. You should contact your pediatric care provider if you do
not observe these reactions. While you are in the hospital, your baby will
be evaluated to see if he is at high risk for hearing problems.
At the hospital, the doctors and nurses will perform physical exams that
will give them some reliable information about your baby's nervous system
function. Unfortunately, a normal newborn exam cannot guarantee that the
baby will continue to function normally. When doctors and nurses say babies
are normal, they are saying that they do not find anything wrong at the
time. Fortunately, hidden abnormalities of the brain are extremely rare.
Therefore, when the doctor says the baby is normal, it generally turns out
to be true.
You will observe several newborn reflexes in your baby. A few are discussed
Suck, swallow, rooting, and gag reflexes
Babies learn to suck and swallow before they are born. You will note that
when your baby is hungry or has just awakened, she will open her mouth and
turn toward a light touch on her upper lip. This is what we call rooting.
Rooting will help her latch on for breastfeeding, and you should be aware
that if you push on the opposite cheek (pushing the baby's face toward your
breast), she often responds to that stimulus by turning toward it-thus
turning away from rather than toward the breast.
When a baby gets either a bottle or a breast, she often will suck
tentatively one or two times before beginning to swallow the milk more
vigorously. Occasionally, the milk may get caught at the top of her
windpipe, causing her to stop swallowing and hold her breath. If she
continues to hold her breath long enough, she may turn blue. This can be
distressing even to the experienced mother! A short wait takes care of this
problem. Soon the milk will slide away from the windpipe, and she will
start swallowing and breathing again. Sometimes, too, she will actually gag
the milk back up rather than leave it in her throat. Certain babies have
stronger gag and breath-holding reflexes than others. Obviously, if your
baby stops swallowing and stops breathing you should take the bottle or
breast out of her mouth and give her a chance to catch her breath.
Babies have a protective reflex called the startle, or Moro, reflex. When
infants experience sudden movements or hear loud noises, they will react by
throwing their arms out, flexing their legs, and sometimes crying for a
brief moment. This reflex disappears by about five months.
All babies have grasp reflexes. When you place a finger in the palm of a
baby's hand, he will curl his fingers around the object and hold it for a
moment. Likewise, when you place a finger against the base of his toes, the
toes will curl.
Babies breathe in a relatively irregular fashion, usually less than 60
times a minute. When you watch her naked you will notice that her abdomen
moves up and down as she uses her diaphragm for breathing, rather than
expanding her chest as older children do. Sometimes she will breathe
rapidly for 30 seconds to a minute; other times she will slow down. This is
normal. If your baby consistently breathes more than 60 times a minute,
even in sleep, that is unusual and should be discussed with your pediatric
Fontanelles (soft spots)
You will notice that, toward the front of your baby's head, there is a soft
spot where the skull bones don't come together. Some babies have a tiny
soft spot, and others have one as large as the width of two fingers. The
size is normal as long as the baby's head size is normal and as long as the
baby's head grows proportionately. You need not worry that touching or
washing this area will harm the baby's underlying brain. There is a very
tough canvas-like protection underneath the skin (called the dura) which
protects the brain, even under the soft spot.