Since newborns seem so small and fragile, it is natural to worry about your baby's health and safety. If your newborn develops a red face while she is moving around, you may think something is wrong. In most cases, however, your newborn's red face is normal and doesn't indicate a serious problem.
Because a newborn's skin is thin and delicate, it naturally exhibits a wide variation in coloring. Some premature babies have such thin skin that it appears translucent. Right after birth, a newborn's face may have a pasty white appearance, thanks to a thick coating of excess skin cells and skin secretions. If a newborn develops jaundice -- as more than 50 percent of newborns do, according to BabyCenter.com -- her face may turn yellow as her body sheds extra red blood cells. Blood vessels, easily visible through her thin facial skin, can give her face a pinkish tint, and the skin around her lips may turn blue.
A newborn's face also might look red, particularly when she is moving around. Right after birth, a newborn frequently cries and moves her limbs, and her face typically turns red or reddish-purple, no matter what her ethnicity. The process of beginning to breathe air gives her skin this reddish color. Later on, her face may turn beet-red when she becomes so hungry or tired that she flails her arms and legs during a crying fit. This is a normal response to her agitated emotional state. Her face may also redden when she strains to have a bowel movement.
Signs of a Problem
In some cases, a red face may signal a problem. A baby who has become overheated may develop a reddened face or a bumpy, red heat rash on her scalp or forehead. If you leave your newborn in direct sunlight, she may end up with a painful sunburn. Fifth disease -- a viral infection common in babies -- also causes a red rash to appear on a newborn's cheeks that makes it look like the cheeks were slapped. Even weeks after your baby recovers from the illness, the red rash may come back when she becomes overheated or moves around a lot when she becomes upset.
If your newborn has overheated or developed a heat rash, help her cool down by removing layers of clothing, putting her in a lighter outfit or leaving her in just a diaper. Treat possible dehydration by giving her more formula or extra breast-feeding sessions. Don't give her water, which isn't good for babies under 6 months. Ease irritation from heat rash by cooling the area with a damp washcloth or giving her a lukewarm bath that includes 2 tablespoons of baking soda per gallon. If she has a sunburn, call her pediatrician for proper treatment. You may be able to soothe the inflamed skin with cool water followed by a moisturizer or by giving her infant acetaminophen. If you suspect your newborn has fifth disease, take her to the pediatrician to verify whether that is the reason for her red face. The illness is normally mild, and she will usually just need lots of fluid and rest until she recovers.