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.

Nervous System

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 below:

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.

Startle (Moro)

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 care provider.

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.