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Baby Tips

Babies from Head to Toe

by Jennifer Shu, M.D., FAAP
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When your baby is first born, she's likely to look more like E.T. than the Gerber baby. That's because staying in your womb for nine months and going through the birth process is apt to make any newborn look like she is having a bad hair day. Here are some things you might notice in the first few days and weeks:

Head: Newborns often have cone-shaped heads that round out over the first month or two. You may notice a diamond-shaped soft spot about the size of a quarter which will fill in over the next year or so. Do not be alarmed if it starts pulsing-that just means a nearby blood vessel is throbbing with the beat of your baby's heart. Because babies can get cold easily, putting a hat on your newborn in the first month or so can help.

Eyes: Babies can see clearly for about 12 to 18 inches when first born, so be sure to get close to her so she can gaze at your face. You can also use bright-colored toys and mobiles to get her attention. Eyes may cross for the first month or two before becoming normally aligned. The color of the irises will often be a bluish-gray but may change by six months, or sometimes longer.

Ears: Hearing develops by the end of the second trimester of pregnancy, so your baby will probably already recognize your voice. Play music or sing, since most babies enjoy it! Be sure to talk to her when she's awake and let her know what's going on around her. Some babies like to hear white noise when they sleep, but listening to lullabies beforehand can be soothing.

Arms and legs: Babies have a normal "startle" reflex that causes their arms and legs to flail outward. This can sometimes happen and awaken them from sleep. Using a swaddle blanket in the first few months can help keep babies snug as a bug in a rug at night.

Fingers and toes: Another reflex present at birth is the "grasp" reflex, which enables a baby to grab firmly onto your finger as you hold her. (The toes will also try to wrap around an object pressed against the ball of the foot.) As she gets a little older, you can graduate to rattles and other shake toys.  
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Meet Our Expert
Jennifer Shu, MD, FAAP
Pediatrician & CNN Health Columnist
Jennifer Shu, MD, FAAP, is a mother and practicing pediatrician in Atlanta, Georgia. A frequent guest on national and local television, radio, and web-based programs, she is medical editor in chief of HealthyChildren.org, is the Living Well health expert for CNN.com, contributes medical information to WebMD.com, and serves on the Parents magazine advisory board.

Dr. Shu also coauthored the award-winning books: Food Fights: Winning the Nutritional Challenges of Parenthood Armed with Insight, Humor, and a Bottle of Ketchup and Heading Home with Your Newborn: From Birth to Reality.

She has chaired the young physicians sections for both the American Academy of Pediatrics and American Medical Association and formerly served as director of the normal newborn nursery at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center.
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Jennifer Shu, MD, FAAP