Posted on 17. March 2017 by
Girls vs. boys – gender-appropriate care for the bits “down there”
In many ways, having a newborn baby girl isn’t so different from having a boy; in those first crazy weeks, both genders pretty much need to eat (constantly), sleep (nowhere near enough) and have their nappies changed (approximately 5 million times). So far, so similar.
But there are a few differences it’s worth keeping in mind, especially when it comes to keeping the beneath-the-nappy bits clean and tidy. Here are a few handy rules of thumb:
For girls, the big thing to remember is “front to back” - if you’re female yourself, it will probably be pretty easy to keep this in mind, as you were more than likely taught this yourself at a young age. This is to avoid spreading bacteria to the delicate areas up front, which can cause an infection. As the wee tube or urethra is so much shorter in girls, bacteria can cause urinary tract infections and if left untreated can even damage the kidneys.
Of course, we all know baby girls are just as likely as boys to bring on the dreaded “poonami” - and in that case, the mess is likely to get absolutely everywhere, “up-front” bits included. If (who are we kidding, when) this happens, don’t panic; just gently spread the labia apart and use as many wipes or bits of clean cotton wool as necessary to wipe front-to-back, until the area is clean. (We hope you stocked up!)
In your baby girl’s first weeks of life, her genitals might look a bit swollen and red, and you might even notice some discharge or even bleeding (like a little period); this is most likely due to hormones she was exposed to during pregnancy (not birth) and can occur in the first days of life. The same phenomenon can cause neonatal or "witches milk" in both sexes. This is milk production from the breast shortly after birth and is normal.
(though of course it’s absolutely fine to ask your health visitor or GP to have a look if you’re concerned). If you get to the six-week checkup and things still look angry down there, though, you may want to ask your doctor to make sure there’s no pesky infection lurking.
Keeping baby boys clean is mostly a matter of making sure you wipe around and underneath everything thoroughly with your wipe or cotton wool, and don’t miss any spots.
If your little boy is uncircumcised, don’t try to pull back the foreskin; it’s not meant to be able to retract until he’s around 2 or 3, and forcing it back too early can cause damage and scarring (not to mention being painful for him!)
If, however, you have chosen to circumcise, you’ll want to clean the area very gently with plain water for the first several days, let it dry thoroughly in the open air, and perhaps dab on a bit of petroleum jelly afterward. It’s normal for there to be a bit of discharge and inflammation for a week to 10 days afterward, but if you notice a lot of redness or your baby seems distressed, it’s a good idea to ring the GP for advice.
Lastly, as any mum of boys will tell you, there are two absolutely essential truths to keep in mind when dealing with boys’ nappies: when you’re putting them on, tuck everything in facing downward to prevent leaks out the top... and when you’re taking them off, look sharp, because the cool air tends to produce some rather interesting effects!
Looking for more information on caring for your newborn? Our Advice Centre has lots of practical guidance on everything from check-ups and crying to how to get some much-needed me time!