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”!

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.