Counting Your Newborn’s Fingers and Toes

Not too long ago, I stumbled over a Facebook post by Christy. This amazing mother had just given birth unassisted to child number six. This was not her first unassisted homebirth. In fact, she has given birth at home to all of her babies but one, and three of them without medical assistance. But that’s not the only thing that makes this awesome Momma stand out from the crowd.

Newborn Surprise

six-fingers1-300x300Like many other freebirthers, Christy finds out the gender of her babies on the day they are born. But in addition to checking her baby’s gender, Christy also does someone else: she counts fingers and toes. You might not think that is very remarkable until you realize that she has a good reason for doing so. Christy herself was born with an extra finger, and some of her babies share the same fate.

Having Extra Fingers and Toes

When people (or animals) are born with extra fingers or toes, it’s called polydactyly or polydactylism. According to the Boston Children’s Hospital, “Polydactyly is a fairly common congenital defect that often runs in families.” Interestingly enough, having five fingers is a recessive trait. The most common place for an extra finger is on the side of the smallest finger, and that is what happened in this case. But extra fingers can also show up on the thumb side or in the middle (least common).

Most of the time, the extra fingers are smaller and abnormally shaped than the rest. They may just consist of just skin and soft tissue, which is most easily removed. This is what happened in Christy’s case. Her husband tied the extra finger off. Within a few days, it will change color and fall off. Christy says it’s kind of pitiful to watch, but this is one of the two ways the extra digit can be removed. The other option is surgery, which is a lot more invasive.

However, according to Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children, tying off the finger can be painful because the extra digit has a nerve supply. It’s also important to tie it very tightly, because the extra finger can otherwise bleed a great deal. Additionally, a few sources state that a surgery would be a better solution from a cosmetic standpoint. Without it, the hand might have a little wart in the place where the extra digit was located.

It’s understandable that a hospital recommends surgery in this case. But I wonder if surgery is really the better option. After all, in order to do surgery on a baby, one would have to use local or general anaesthetic. In fact, an older baby would probably be too active to have this procedure done while awake. Personally, I think Christy and her husband are amazing parents, being able to handle this on their own. Of course, if the extra digit includes bone structure, then it would be more difficult to remove and not a DIY procedure.

The good thing about extra or missing digits is that nothing needs to be done right away. Certain medical conditions exist in concurrence with extra or missing fingers, but polydactylism by itself is not life-threatening. Therefore, you can take some time and do some research if your newborn baby is born with extra digits. And if polydactylism runs in your family, then you might want to consider doing the research before baby is born, because you’ll have more time to do it.


Christy’s Blog:

Department of Genetics, Stanford School of Medicine:

Boston Children’s Hospital:

Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children NHS Foundation Trust: