If there are a million things that will perplex and terrify you during pregnancy, there are a million and one that’ll do the same during the newborn phase. You made it to the finish line… only to realize the journey is really just beginning. Hopefully, a loved one along the way gave you the warning we all need before bringing that bundle of joy home: Newborns do weird things all the time, and you’re left to wonder if those things are normal or if you should be worried.
Spoiler alert? You’ll freak TF out a fair bit during those first few months. You’ll find yourself lurking over your baby’s crib in the middle of the night like a total creeper, just making sure they’re still breathing. And, sure, there will be panic-Googling.
But according to Dr. Mona Amin — Enfamil’s 360 Infant Development Expert, pediatrician, mother, and host of The Pedstalkdoc Podcast — most of those strange newborn behaviors that freak you out are likely just normal byproducts of your baby adjusting to life outside of your womb.
To help keep your panic at bay, we asked Dr. Amin for insight and advice.
What are some of the most common “weird” (but normal) things newborns do?
“Gasping” or grunting. “Babies make a lot of noises when they’re sleeping and breathing, and yes, this is normal,” says Amin, explaining, “This happens because their airways are very small, so whenever the air is moving through a small space, it’s going to vibrate and make a sound.” In other words, your baby will grunt, gasp, and make different “vibrational” noises frequently.
Rapid breathing. “Periodic breathing is when a baby breathes very rapidly and, all of a sudden, just slows down — and then breathes rapidly and slows down. This is actually them coordinating their breathing rhythm,” says Amin, adding this “goes away on its own where they finally will start to breathe just like you and I do.”
Tremors and twitching. Like everything else with your newborn, their nervous system is brand new. Until it’s better developed, you may notice a lot of jerky movements. “When they startle, they’ll jerk their arms and legs. This is what we call the Moro reflex. When sleeping, they may jerk, too — all of a sudden, they’ll just kind of spasm for a second and stop. The difference between this and when it would be concerning is if it’s rhythmic … [if] you can’t stop it,” explains Amin.
Hiccups. According to Amin, this might be the number one newborn concern she hears from parents. “Hiccups are also just an immaturity of the nerve that goes down to the diaphragm,” she says. “So it commonly gets irritated when they drink or swallow breast milk or formula.” Expectant moms often feel these hiccups in utero and are surprised when baby comes into the world and still seems to get hiccups often. “It’ll go away on its own,” reassures Amin. “You don’t need to do anything for it … it’s just something that will naturally go away.”
Other weird but typically normal things to look for?
- Skin issues. Dark spots, birthmarks, acne, cradle cap, dry and peeling skin — your newborn will likely experience a range of little skin “surprises.”
- False menses. Yep! Your newborn could exhibit vaginal bleeding and discharge. It isn’t true menses; it’s caused by exposure to pregnancy hormones in the womb.
- Lots of sneezes. As your baby’s nose encounters all sorts of new things, it may sneeze up a storm. This is just their body’s way of protecting their delicate nasal passages.
- Clenching and tensing. After nine months of being balled up in the fetal position, your baby’s little body may be tense for a few months. They’ll relax as their nervous and muscle systems strengthen.
- Crossed eyes. The muscles that control your peanut’s eyes need a little more practice. Until then, expect their eyes to occasionally drift when they try to focus.
What should you do if your instincts tell you something might not be normal?
First things first, step away from Google. “Usually, these concerns happen when you’re sleep-deprived, so I don’t want you to go online and search the topic. It could lead you down a rabbit hole of stress and concern,” cautions Amin. “If you are concerned and your gut is telling you something’s not right, I would listen to yourself. [Don’t] try to convince yourself that it’s not something, and call the nursing line of your pediatrician’s office.”
Amin points out that it’s very common for parents to worry about calling the pediatrician over every concern. But, as the adage goes, it’s better to be safe than sorry here.
“You’d rather have it be nothing and you got reassurance than it be something. As a parent, it’s your job to learn what you’re comfortable with and when you’re going to be concerned. I don’t want you ever to feel bad if you go get help and it ends up being nothing — because that’s what we want,” says Amin.
For the most part, you can just keep an eye on your newborn (which, let’s be honest, you’re already doing). “As long as they’re breathing comfortably, hydrated, neurologically they’re doing what they do, they sleep, they wake up, they eat as a newborn, and they have no fever, you can kind of monitor,” suggests Amin. “If there’s something you think is normal but you feel like you want to ask someone, write it down. Ask at the next visit, if your child is doing well otherwise, just to get you that peace of mind. Because peace of mind goes a long way.”
While Amin doesn’t recommend keeping a running log of your newborn’s behavior, she does recommend taking a quick video of visual concerns like irregular breathing to show the pediatrician.
One of the best things a new parent can do — although often overlooked, says Amin — is to have a strong support system.
Mothers, in particular, tend to try to do it all. But, says Amin, “The reality is, just from an evolutionary perspective and human being perspective, you’re not meant to raise a child on your own. You’re supposed to have support, whether that’s someone who takes care of you emotionally and physically or that’s someone to wash bottles and help with things around the house. It’s not something that you are meant to do alone.”