Characteristics of Newborn Babies

By Shelley Frost
Mother holding newborn baby in hospital
Mother holding newborn baby in hospital

The smooth-skinned, giggling babies you see in parenting magazines and diaper ads aren't quite what you'll see in the delivery room. Of course, your newest family member will be adorable, but newborn babies have very distinct characteristics physically and behaviorally that may surprise new parents. Having an idea of what to expect prepares you for delivery day and helps you identify any potential problems in your newborn's development.

Physical Appearance

A newborn's head averages 13 to 14 inches and accounts for about 25 percent of the total size, says Ohio State University's Wexner Medical Center. The head might also look pointy or misshapen due to the pressure of delivery or swelling, but the head rounds out over the next few weeks. You'll also notice soft spots on the head. A newborn's genitals are sometimes swollen due to hormones. Expect your newborn's skin to appear dark the first few days, with a possible bluish tint on the hands and feet. Once the skin lightens, it may appear dry or flaky. A waxy coating called vernix sometimes coats the skin but washes off in the bath. Fine hairs can also cover a newborn's body for the first few weeks, especially if the baby is born early. Small bumps resembling acne are also common on newborns, especially on the face.

Height and Weight

Newborns vary in size with the average weight falling between 5 pounds, 8 ounces and 8 pounds,13 ounces, according to Kids Health. Babies outside that range are often still healthy and normal. A weight loss of about 10 percent during a baby's first five days is normal. Your baby should be back up to her birth weight by about day 10. The normal growth rate per day is 2/3 of an ounce. Newborns also rapidly increase in length, growing between 1 1/2 to 2 inches the first month. Your health care provider will regularly check your newborn's height, weight and head circumference to ensure proper growth and development.

Vision and Hearing

Newborn eyes and vision aren't as developed as yours. Weak eye muscles sometimes cause the appearance of crossed eyes. You may notice swelling in the eyes from the ointment used on newborns. Tear ducts also may take some time to be functional. Her eyes allow her to see faces and large objects. She can also see bright colors. Newborns are able to hear sounds of varying levels at birth. You may notice your baby turn her head when she hears your voice.

Eating Habits

You probably already expect your newborn to spend most of his time eating and sleeping, but knowing the normal ranges helps you ensure your baby gets enough sleep and food. Newborns eat about every two or three hours for a total of eight to 12 feedings every day, according to the Mayo Clinic. He'll show you he's ready for the bottle or breast by making lip movements or sucking actions, as well as wiggling and stretching. Growth spurts around 2 to 3 weeks of age and again at 6 weeks often mean an increased appetite for your baby. Feed your baby on demand to ensure he gets enough nutrients for his rapidly growing body. Like eating, expect your newborn to sleep frequently in short stretches -- about three to four hours at once. Newborns sleep around 16 hours per day, according to Kids Health.

Movements

Newborns often spend the first few weeks curled up with arms and legs pulled in toward the body. She may clench her hands into fists. She slowly starts to stretch out her arms and legs. Newborns often have short periods of being very alert when they look at you. This can turn to fussiness or tiredness as she gets sleepy. When a newborn hears a loud sound or is otherwise startled, she reacts by thrusting her arms and legs. Babies also naturally grasp fingers when placed in the palm of the hand.

About the Author

Based in the Midwest, Shelley Frost has been writing parenting and education articles since 2007. Her experience comes from teaching, tutoring and managing educational after school programs. Frost worked in insurance and software testing before becoming a writer. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in elementary education with a reading endorsement.