Hybrid phantoms represent a third generation of computational models of human anatomy needed for dose assessment in both external and internal radiation exposures. Recently, we presented the first whole-body hybrid phantom of the ICRP reference newborn with a skeleton constructed from both non-uniform rational B-spline and polygon-mesh surfaces (Lee et al 2007 Phys. Med. Biol. 52 3309-33). The skeleton in that model included regions of cartilage and fibrous connective tissue, with the remainder given as a homogenous mixture of cortical and trabecular bone, active marrow and miscellaneous skeletal tissues. In the present study, we present a comprehensive skeletal tissue model of the ICRP reference newborn to permit a heterogeneous representation of the skeleton in that hybrid phantom set - both male and female - that explicitly includes a delineation of cortical bone so that marrow shielding effects are correctly modeled for low-energy photons incident upon the newborn skeleton. Data sources for the tissue model were threefold. First, skeletal site-dependent volumes of homogeneous bone were obtained from whole-cadaver CT image analyses. Second, selected newborn bone specimens were acquired at autopsy and subjected to micro-CT image analysis to derive model parameters of the marrow cavity and bone trabecular 3D microarchitecture. Third, data given in ICRP Publications 70 and 89 were selected to match reference values on total skeletal tissue mass. Active marrow distributions were found to be in reasonable agreement with those given previously by the ICRP. However, significant differences were seen in total skeletal and site-specific masses of trabecular and cortical bone between the current and ICRP newborn skeletal tissue models. The latter utilizes an age-independent ratio of 80%/20% cortical and trabecular bone for the reference newborn. In the current study, a ratio closer to 40%/60% is used based upon newborn CT and micro-CT skeletal image analyses. These changes in mineral bone composition may have significant dosimetric implications when considering localized marrow dosimetry for radionuclides that target mineral bone in the newborn child.