Newborns are funny looking
You may notice that your baby looks nothing like the chubby, smooth-skinned angels gracing the magazines in the doctor’s waiting room. No, there’s nothing wrong. It’s just that the babies in the magazines aren’t newborns!
This makes sense, given that the “newborn look” is – to put it bluntly – a bit bizarre. Think big heads, scrawny limbs, and scaly skin.
“They basically look like aliens,” says pediatrician and writer Gwenn O’Keeffe.
The birth process itself accounts for some of the oddity. All that squeezing and molding on the journey through the birth canal can result in squished features and a head that’s more cone-shaped than round (c-section babies typically have rounder heads).
In addition, says O’Keeffe, because your baby has been floating in fluid for nine months, she hasn’t had the chance to develop much muscle tone. This lends her facial features a certain slackness.
Your baby’s skin might also surprise you. If your baby arrives late, her skin might look wrinkled and may peel from losing the white, creamy vernix that covered the skin in utero. Full-term and premature babies may also peel a bit from the exposure to air after the vernix is washed away.
Preemies are more likely to emerge covered with a fine, downy (or sometimes dark) hair called lanugo. Lanugo typically sprouts from certain parts of the body, such as the back, shoulders, ears, and forehead, and falls out in a matter of weeks after birth (although it persists for quite a bit longer in some babies).
Soon your baby will pile on the ounces, lose the newborn look, and become decidedly babyish in appearance. Until then, enjoy this phase while it lasts. Because while newborns may not be ready for commercials, they have a strange loveliness, at least in their parents’ eyes.
As one mom puts it, “My oldest looked like a monkey, my second looked like a little old lady, and my youngest resembled a frog. I thought they were beautiful.”
Babies can be explosive
Newborns may look delicate, but when it comes to spit-up and poop, they can pack a serious punch.
In a recent BabyCenter survey, 41 percent of new moms said spitting up was their biggest feeding nuisance. “I was surprised by how many times I had to change my own clothes,” says mom of two Rachel Teichman.
Why is spitting up so common? Simple physiology. “The tiny muscle that acts as a valve between the esophagus and the stomach is immature in newborns, so it’s easy for food to come back up,” says O’Keeffe.
If you have a major spitter-upper, don’t forget to burp him and keep him upright after he eats. This can help reduce the volume and frequency. And don’t worry – he won’t have to take burp cloths to college.
“Most babies outgrow the spit-up phase by 4 or 5 months of age,” says O’Keeffe.
(However, if your baby seems uncomfortable after eating, if he’s losing weight, or if the spit-up is projectile, talk to your doctor. It could be a sign of reflux or another medical problem.)
Poop explosions are another normal part of the new-parent initiation. “At our baby’s second doctor’s appointment, poop exploded all over my husband’s shirt,” says one BabyCenter mom. “It was like a jet engine!”
Again, you can thank immature biology. “Babies can’t willfully poop until they get older, so sometimes it just reaches a critical mass and it all comes out at once,” says O’Keeffe.
There’s not too much you can do about poop blowouts, other than carrying a well-stocked diaper bag and trying your best to keep your sense of humor intact.
Babies are unexpectedly time-consuming
It’s the quintessential conundrum of early parenthood: How can caring for this doll-like, sleepy creature eat up such massive amounts of time? Instead of the productive, project-filled weeks you may have envisioned while you were pregnant, your post-birth days trudge by in a blur of diaper changing, feeding, rocking, burping, and endless laundry.
As for zipping out the door for a quick errand with your baby? It’s likely more a slog than a zip. “What surprised me the most was what a production it is to get out of the house,” one BabyCenter mom says.
“It’s common for moms to be overwhelmed and surprised by how much time a newborn takes up,” says Whitney Moss, mom and coauthor of The Rookie Mom’s Handbook. In our survey, 64 percent of BabyCenter moms said finding time to get things done – or time for themselves – is the biggest challenge of new motherhood.
It can be helpful to adjust your expectations and remember that parenthood has a steep learning curve. “Go easy on yourself, just as if you were at a new job,” says Moss.
So shelve those plans to clean out your garage during maternity leave and know that as you gain experience, all those baby-related tasks will become both easier and quicker. It may take you ten minutes to change a diaper now, but soon you’ll find yourself doing it offhandedly while you chat on the phone. And pretty soon you’ll be able to get yourself and your baby to the grocery store without breaking a sweat.
Bonding follows its own timetable
For some moms – including 34 percent of our survey respondents – the biggest shock of new parenthood was the instant love they felt the first time they saw or held their baby. “It hit me like a ton of bricks,” says one mom.
Others find the exact opposite: Their biggest surprise was that they didn’t fall in love instantly (11 percent of our survey participants fell into this category). For these parents, bonding developed more gradually. “My daughter is 3 1/2 weeks old and I love her to death,” one mom says. “But it wasn’t this overwhelming magical moment. It took time.”
Like pregnancy, labor, and birth itself, the experience of bonding varies from parent to parent. If you’re feeling stressed because you’re not as bonded with your newborn as you thought you’d be, give it time and remember that there’s no “right way” for bonding to happen.
In addition, make sure you get some breaks. Ironically, a little time away from your baby can help the bonding process along.
“It’s really important to get a breather,” says O’Keeffe. “Don’t feel guilty about leaving your baby with your partner or a friend while you go for a walk or get your nails done. When moms feel less overwhelmed, bonding becomes easier.”
If, after a few weeks, you’re still having trouble feeling connected to your baby, talk with your doctor. Sometimes postpartum depression – which is both common and treatable – can get in the way of the bonding process.
You’ll be a different kind of parent than you expected
Parenthood comes with many lessons, and humility may be one of the biggest of all.
Maybe you thought you’d never give your baby a pacifier, and now your house and car are filled with neon-colored binkies. Or you thought you’d never worry about germs, and now you meet visitors at the door with a bottle of hand sanitizer. Or you thought you’d stick with cloth diapers, but you can’t resist the disposables. And here you are, doing exactly what you swore you’d never do.
“We all go through this,” says O’Keeffe. “We think we’ll be a certain way, and then we realize that we just need to do what works for our individual child.”
“I was totally not a baby/kid person. The day before I gave birth to my first, I thought I’d be saying, ‘Here you go, Grandma. We’ll be back from our weekend trip in a few days….’ But the moment he came out, I was overwhelmed with love and protection and joy. I never thought I’d be like that. I’ve been away from him exactly one night, because I had to, for work,” says one BabyCenter mom.
Another mom says, “I always thought it was disgusting when parents cleaned their kid’s nose with their own hands, but now I’m one of those parents!”
And Melissa Byers writes in her story The Princess and the Pacifier, “When my youngest was an infant, I was terrified of the pacifier.…This thing wasn’t going to get me. Oh no. I was smarter than that. Or so I thought.… After a few weeks, the crying was too much, and I was done being a human pacifier.”