Your baby’s genitals: What you need to know

Newborns don’t come with a manual, so here’s how to keep bubba feeling ― and smelling ― healthy “down there”!

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Caring for a newborn is a minefield, since you need to bone up on a gazillion things, from breastfeeding, to sleep, to babycare and hygiene.

An often neglected aspect in newborn care is taking care of your little one’s genitals. Sure, you make sure to wipe away all the gunk during diaper changes, but how do you know that everything is as it should be?

What to expect in a newborn

Your baby’s male or female parts may appear more swollen than usual at birth. This is due to exposure to the mum’s hormones during birth, or it could be due to slight birth trauma, which could cause bruising and swelling.

For newborn boys, the foreskin ― or the skin that covers the tip of the penis ― is normally tight and shouldn’t be pulled back.

For newborn girls, you may see a vaginal discharge that may be white or bloody. This, again, is caused by the hormone oestrogen that the mum passes to her during birth. If you see a small piece of flesh protruding between the labia (lips of your baby girl’s vagina), don’t panic. It’s probably a hymenal tag and will recede into the labia as she matures.

Genital conditions your baby might have

Your baby may have a genital condition at birth, or he or she may develop it later on. Many of these are temporary and may or may not require treatment. Here are some of them.

· Undescended testicles
Your baby boy’s testicles, which will be formed inside his abdomen before he is born, usually descend into the scrotum just before birth. “In a small percentage of cases, the testis is found in the groin,” says Dr Dale Lincoln Loh, head and senior consultant at the department of paediatric surgery at National University Hospital. In many cases, the testicles move naturally into the scrotum in the first few months. “But if not descended by the age of 6 months, it would need to be surgically brought down by the age of 2,” Dr Loh adds.

· Inguinal hernia
This condition can occur in both baby boys and girls, though it is far more prevalent in boys. Usually seen as a lump in the groin region, it happens when an opening, called a deep inguinal ring, in the groin fails to close at birth. The lump is caused by “the intestine prolapsing through the opening and getting stuck,” explains Dr Loh. The inguinal hernia would need to be closed surgically by an operation called an inguinal herniotomy.

Your baby boy’s testicles, which will be formed inside his abdomen before he is born, usually descend into the scrotum just before birth.

· Labial adhesions
When the lips of the vagina ― or labia ― are fused by a thin membrane, the vaginal opening is not visible. “It is usually asymptomatic, but can be treated with topical oestrogen cream,” Dr Loh says. In many cases, the condition resolves naturally.

· Hypospadias
This is a congenital abnormality of the penis. The condition presents itself in three ways: 1. The urethral opening is not at the tip of the penis; 2. Some parts of the foreskin is missing; 3. The penis may be bent or curved. “One or two operations may be required to correct the abnormalities,” Dr Loh says.

· Urinary Tract Infections
UTIs can happen in both baby boys and girls and it’s an infection of the urinary tract, which is made up of the kidneys, ureters, bladder and urethra. It’s usually caused by bacteria, but can occasionally be caused by a virus. The doctor will treat the UTI with a course of antibiotics.

If your baby boy has recurrent infections of his foreskin, recurrent UTIs, or if he has a very tight foreskin opening that causes the end of his foreskin to balloon or swell up when he passes urine, he may need a circumcision. “If he is well, and does not have any of the above indications, then a circumcision is not recommended,” notes Dr Loh. Circumcisions may be carried out for religious reasons.

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Observing good hygiene practices keeps your baby clean and healthy “down there”. Here are some pointers:

Boys
· For a circumcised baby boy, rinse the genital area while bathing him. You don’t have to use soap, but if you do, use only a small amount of a gentle baby cleanser.
· For the uncircumcised boy, clean only the outside of the foreskin. You may see a milky white substance under your baby’s foreskin ― it’s a harmless substance called smegma and is made up of dead skin cells and natural secretions.

Girls
· Using a moistened cotton ball, hold your baby girl’s legs apart and always wipe from front to back to prevent infection. The urethra, vagina and rectum are very close together, so it is easy to spread germs from one organ to the other.

The urethra, vagina and rectum are very close together, so it is easy to spread germs from one organ to the other.

Diaper rash around the genital area is common. It is usually caused by prolonged exposure to urine or stool, which can irritate your baby's delicate skin.

Here are ways you can prevent your baby from developing a diaper rash.

· Change him or her regularly.
· Avoid letting her sit in wet or damp clothes.
· Use a barrier cream at the first sign of redness or irritation.
· Air her bottom whenever possible.

If your baby’s genital area has a rash, these are several ways you can soothe it.
· Use a cotton ball dipped in clean, boiled water for diaper changes, so as to avoid harsh chemicals present in some baby wipes.
· A barrier cream can help to soothe and heal the rash.
· Consider using cloth diapers ― these are generally more gentle on bubba’s delicate skin than disposable ones.
· Let your baby sit in a shallow bath of warm water mixed with half a cup of baking soda.
· If the rash hasn’t improved after a few days, see the doctor to make sure it isn’t an yeast infection.

Photos: iStock

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