Emma Cronin, registered nurse and midwife in our Health at Hand team

The newborn


16 August 2019

Many first time parents are often surprised by the appearance of their new-born baby. Soon after they’re born their appearance changes rapidly, but when they first arrive, a newborn baby may be covered in a thick white grease, known as vernix.

Some babies are born with a fine layer of hair on their body (lanugo), patchy skin, white spots on their face (milia) or slightly oval-shaped heads from their journey through the birth canal. All of these things will soon change and disappear shortly after birth.

Again regarding the appearance of the baby, usually around day 2-3 the baby can appear slightly jaundiced (yellowish discolouration of mainly the eyes but sometimes the skin too). This is due to the liver being immature and unable to breakdown the extra red blood cells in the body. Babies may become drowsy and reluctant to feed, which in turn causes the baby to become jaundiced. Infection can also contribute to this phenomenon. The jaundice usually disappears quickly within 2-3 days, once dehydration is resolved and other medical issues excluded.

When delivered, the umbilical cord will be clamped and cut. A small stump of this will remain with a cord clip attached. This will dry out and fall off, usually in about a week. Until this happens, it’s best to try to avoid irritating the cord stump. Gently clean around it with warm water and cotton wool and ensure it’s kept dry to minimise the risk of infection. 


It’s not strictly necessary to bath a newborn baby every day in the first few weeks. Their skin is delicate so avoid harsh soaps or body washes; bathing every day may strip the skin of healthy natural oils and cause dry skin. Many midwives and health visitors will recommend bathing a new baby every few days and ‘topping and tailing’ on the days in between (cleaning only the face and genitals, again using warm water and cotton wool). 


Newborn babies will spend most of the day sleeping in the first few weeks, often waking every few hours to be fed. Current guidelines for putting your baby down to sleep safely and to minimise the risk of cot death suggest that you should lay your baby flat on their back with no pillow. There should be no cuddly toys or loose items near their head, the mattress and bedding should be clean and a non-smoking environment is best for your child.


Breast fed babies usually feed more frequently (mainly due to the fact that breast milk being more easily and quickly digested than formula milk.) Most babies, breast or bottle fed will need feeding every 2-3 hours although this varies with each child. If your baby is feeding well, they should have roughly 5-6 wet nappies a day and several soiled nappies. The first soiled nappy your baby produces after birth will be dark green/black and tarry in appearance. But, as your baby starts to feed this will begin to lighten to a mustard colour.

If you’re concerned about your baby’s feeding or the content of their nappies contact your health visitor for support. 

A health visitor should contact you within the first few days after you’ve had your baby to arrange a visit at your home. This allows them to introduce themselves and provide you with useful information about local clinics, groups and facilities that may be of use to you. During this visit it’s normal for your baby to be weighed and measured and you’ll be given a child health record book to keep a log of this information. Your health visitor should provide you with their contact details so that you can reach them with questions or concerns. They’ll be able to provide support and advice from birth until your child reaches school age.

Next steps

If you have any concerns or worries about caring for your baby or anything else that comes with being a new parent, please do speak to your GP, midwife or health visitor. You can also get information and support at any time of the day or night through our Early Years Support Service.

Early Years Support from AXA Health

At AXA Health, we understand that becoming a parent – and a family – is a life-changing event, which at times we may not feel fully prepared for.

That's why we've developed our Early Years Support Service for anyone embarking on parenthood, however many times you may have ‘been there’ before!

Available through our Health at Hand team, the Early Years Support Service has registered midwives and nurses at the end of the phone for you or your family to talk to, day or night, 365 days a year*. 

We're here to provide medical information and support, whenever you need us. So, if you’re looking for reassurance, a friendly chat, or if you have questions about anything from pregnancy, birth and the postnatal period, to adapting to parenthood and beyond, call us on 0800 003 004. If you prefer, you can also contact us by email via our Ask the Expert service and one of the team will get back to you. 

*Availability of specialist support:

Nurses and counsellors are available 24 hours a day, every day.

Midwife and pharmacists services available 8am to 8pm Monday to Friday, 8am to 4pm Saturdays and 8am to 12pm Sundays. Call backs can be arranged.

We will transfer members to our counselling service as appropriate.

Further reading

Pregnancy and children's health centres - AXA Health

Bonding with your baby - AXA Health

Feeding your baby - AXA Health

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