Stages of Child Development: Characteristics of the Newborn

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Characteristics of the Newborn

Umbilical Cord

The umbilical cord of a newborn is bluish-white in color. After birth, the umbilical cord is normally cut, leaving stub about one to two inches long. The umbilical stub dries out, shrivels, darkens and spontaneously falls off within three weeks. This later becomes the bellybutton after it heals.


Newborns are wet, covered in streaks of blood and coated with a white substance known as vernix-caseosa, which is assumed to act as an antibacterial barrier. At birth, a newborn’s skin is often grayish to dusky blue in color. As soon as the newborn begins to breathe, usually within a minute or two, the skin’s color reaches its normal tone.


Some newborns have fine, soft body hair called lanugo. They are particularly noticeable on the back, shoulders, forehead, ears and face of premature infants. Lanugo disappears within a few weeks of birth.


A newborn’s head is very large in proportion to the body and the cranium is enormous relative to the face.


The average birth weight of a full-term newborn is approximately 2.5 to 3.5kgs.


The baby’s length will change much more slowly than the weight. Whatever be the baby’s length at birth, approximately 2 cm (3/4”) will be gained each month or just over 5 cm (2”) in the first three months.

Sleeping Patterns

Most newborn babies wake up every two to three hours throughout the day. Short stretches of sleep alternate with short period of wakefulness which is mainly for feeding and keeping babies dry and warm.


A reflex is an inborn, automatic or reflexive response to a particular form of stimulation. Reflexes are a neonate’s organized pattern of behavior. Infants rapidly shut and open their eyes on exposure to direct light, suck at things that touch their lips, grasp when an object is placed in their hands.

Major Reflexes in Newborns

Major Reflexes in Newborns
Major Reflexes in Newborns


Infants turn the head towards things that touch the cheek


Infants move their legs when held upright with feet touching the floor


Infants paddle and kick in a sort of swimming motion when lying face down in a body of water


Activated when support for the neck and head is suddenly removed. Infants thrust their arms outward and appear to grasp onto something


Infants fan out their toes in response to a stroke on the outside of her/his foot


Infants fling out their arms, arch the back and spread the fingers in response to a sudden noise Eye Blink Infants rapidly shut and open their eyes on exposure to direct light


Infants suck at things that touch their lips

Palmar Grasp

When an object is placed in the infant’s hand and strokes the palm, infants close the fingers and grasp it

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