For most of us, the arrival of our first child is usually the first birth we’ve ever been privy to, which is rather an intense first introduction to the experience of childbirth! Often too, our newborn is the first neonate we have ever cared for – phew, such awesome responsibility! Not helping the matter, are the numerous strangely bizarre newborn behaviours that leave as asking “Heck, is that normal?!”
Welcome to the wonderful world of the under four-week-old Neonate, and their weird and wacky behaviours.
Neonates possess many Reflexes, including:
- Moro reflex – when LMCs examine newborns, they lie them on their back, and lift their head slightly before letting it quickly drop a few inches to startle the baby. Babies respond by throwing out their limbs, almost straightening their legs and arms, as if to catch something, in a sort of embrace. This shows that they are moving all their limbs in an equal, normal way.
- Startle reflex – is triggered by a sudden movement or loud noise, making them ‘jump’.
- Rooting reflex – touch their cheek and their face turns towards that side and they open their mouth.
- Stepping reflex – when they are held in a standing position and their feet touch a hard surface, they look as if they’re trying to walk – no, you haven’t given birth to a baby who already knows how to walk.
- Diving reflex – stops a baby breathing underwater for the first six months, even with its mouth wide open.
- Gagging reflex – spluttering coughs to clear their breathing passages.
- Grasp reflex – the magical sensation when you touch the palms of their hands or the soles of their feet, and then their fingers or toes close over – one wonders if perhaps, when a tiny hand grasps onto the finger of an adult, this reflex is designed to capture the hearts of its care-givers.
Hearing is a baby’s most finely developed sense at birth, and soon a newborn can recognise his mother’s voice in a crowd. But their vision is not nearly so developed. It is quite normal for a newborn to gaze around in rather a foggy way for the first month, even cross-eyed. Neonates have clearish sight for only a short distance, the contrast is poor, and beyond half a metre is completely blurry.
Hiccupping is very common in all babies, especially after a feed, and bright lights can make a newborn sneeze because it stimulates the nerves of their nose as well as their eyes. In fact newborns can cough, sneeze and snuffle quite a bit really, as their little system clears out the fluid they have been ‘inhaling’ in your uterus (pity we can’t teach them yet to just blow their noses).
A baby’s sleeping face can be wonderfully entertaining too, with all its many expressions – grunting scowls, lip-smacking smiles, murmuring jerks and squirming puckers. Another bizarre thing to see in your wee newborn are the twitching and jerking during their sleep, or their started jump when you pick them up – these muscle spasms (myoclonic jerks) are all very normal.
In reality, newborns sleep extremely deeply, especially during the REM (Rapid Eye Movement) stage, where they appear to be stirring, with lots of wee fussing noises, little jerky movements, and strange facial expressions. Sometimes they even asleep with their eyes partially open, which can sure look a tad creepy.
Two final peculiar physiological events, are firstly that newborns (girls and boys) can developed enlarged breasts (neonatal mastitis) peaking at about day-4 when their nipples can even leak a little (nicknamed Witch’s Milk). It usually takes a couple of weeks for this to go away, but sometimes it can take months for the swelling to completely subside, and it can be lopsided.
Secondly, little girl newborns can have a miniature period of a little bloody discharge from their vagina (pseudo-menstruation), which is just lining cells from their tiny womb sloughing off.
Yes, the neonatal human can certainly seem bafflingly mysterious and bewilderingly bizarre – but usually, it’s all very normal, and just as Mother Nature had intended.