Updated: May 23
Congratulations! I hope you are enjoying falling in love with your newborn baby.
Coming home with a newborn may be one of the most exciting times in your life, but it also may be one of the most challenging, particularly for first-time parents.
During the current COVID-19 Pandemic, many parents feel isolated and nervous about seeing health professionals unless their baby is really sick. I would urge you, during this time, to see a health professional if you are worried about your baby or feel that “something is not right”.
Common Newborn health conditions
Below, I have put together some brief information about a few common newborn conditions which I often see as a paediatrician (specialist children’s doctor).
Newborn head conditions
Newborn baby head shape
Many babies have slightly uneven or unusually shaped heads
Babies have soft bones that move to fit through the birth canal during delivery, and they often come out with an elongated or odd head shape
By six weeks, your baby’s head shape should remould to a more normal, more symmetrical shape
If a funny head shape doesn’t resolve, it is worth getting checked by a health professional to check that the skull bones are growing normally
Newborn head lumps
Babies may also develop a bruise or lump on the outside of their skull after birth due to bleeding between the scalp and the skull (Cephalhaematoma)
This is more common after forceps or suction deliveries
These lumps do not cause pain and are not dangerous. The brain is not affected
They usually resolve without any treatment within a few weeks or months but may become harder as the blood calcifies before shrinking and disappearing
Common newborn eye conditions
Sticky, discharging eyes
Babies can develop sticky eyes in either one or both eyes. This is usually due to a blocked tear duct and improves with time.
Gentle eye cleansing with cotton wool, saline (salt water), and gentle tear duct massage can help.
Blocked tear ducts don’t usually need antibiotics, but please see your doctor if there is redness around the eye or eyelids or if your child is unwell.
Yellow eyes or body (jaundice)
Jaundice, or yellowness of the skin or white of the eyes, is common in newborns. It is due to a build-up of bilirubin, a product of broken-down blood
“Normal” jaundice usually starts on day 2-3 of life, peaks on day 5-6 and resolves over a couple of weeks without treatment (physiological jaundice)
When to seek help: If your baby has jaundice that appears in the first 24 hours after birth, lasts > 2 weeks or is associated with pale poos and dark wee, your baby should be checked by a Dr and have blood tests
If your baby is unwell, becoming increasingly yellow or feeding poorly, it is also important to get checked
Treatment: Most babies will not need treatment for their jaundice, but if your baby does, the treatment is usually light therapy (phototherapy) and is easy and safe
Your baby’s umbilical cord will gradually dry, become black and then fall off, usually within the first ten days. To avoid infection in the umbilical cord, keep it clean and dry
If it looks red and sticky, wash it with saline/water and see a health professional.
Newborn hips conditions
If your baby was breech, there is a family history of developmental hip disorders, or a nurse or doctor feels a “clunk or click” when examining your baby’s hips, a hip ultrasound may be ordered- this is to look for Developmental dysplasia of the hip (DDH).
Most babies do not require treatment, but some do require a hip brace or other treatments.
Wrapping your baby safely, with the legs free to move, is important in preventing hip problems. For more information, you can view the Royal Childrens Hospital Fact Sheet
Unusual bowel movements
Your baby’s first poo should be a dark green/black tar-like substance called meconium. This is usually passed within 48 hours of birth.
After that, your baby’s poo will often become dark green for a few days, and then its colour may vary enormously- ranging from yellow, orange, and mustard to green.
The consistency will also vary from runny to firm and everything in between.
Some babies poo all the time, and others who are breastfed may only poo once every week or even two weeks.
There is a huge variation in the colour and consistency of baby poo.
If your baby has very pale poo or blood in the poo, diarrhea-causing dehydration or constipation, please see a health professional.
Baby's weight loss after birth
It is normal for your baby to lose weight during the first five days after birth
This weight loss should not be more than 10% of your baby’s birth weight
Most babies regain birth weight after 1-2 weeks
If your baby has lost too much weight, please get them checked.
When to see your GP OR Maternal Child Health Nurse
If something doesn’t seem right and you are worried about your newborn, please seek medical help. Please see a health professional if your newborn is showing signs or symptoms of the following:
Not feeding well
Fewer wet nappies (< 6-8 per day)
Baby seems irritable, lethargic or is difficult to wake for feeds
Has pale or yellow skin.
Your GP or local doctor is a key contact in your community. It can be very helpful to have a GP who gets to know your baby and family well and travels on your journey with you. It’s worth asking your friends or family to recommend a GP who is experienced and comfortable seeing babies and children if you do not already have one.
Your baby’s 6-week check is important so please do not postpone this too long.
In Australia, most babies will not need to be seen by a paediatrician as we have a great system with Maternal Child Health Nurses and GPs managing most childhood issues. If there are concerns, your MCHN or GP will refer you.
In this article, I have only been able to discuss a few common newborn problems but I’m sure there are many others you would like to know about. In my next article, I will discuss common newborn rashes.
Below are some great local resources you can access at any time:
To learn more about your newborn baby and to arm yourself with new parenting skills, join our Baby Basics Masterclass!
Disclaimer: This information is intended to support, not replace, discussion and consultation with your doctor or healthcare professionals. The authors of these consumer health information handouts have made a considerable effort to ensure the information is accurate, up-to-date and easy to understand. Parents You've Got This and Dr Lexi Frydenberg accepts no responsibility for any inaccuracies, information perceived as misleading, or the success of any treatment regimen detailed in this information.