If you could see into your uterus, you may notice something you didn’t expect. Your unborn baby is covered in fine, downy hair!
Why Is My Baby Fuzzy?
Lanugo begins to grow around weeks 14-16 of your pregnancy. By weeks 21-23, the fine hair covers almost all of your baby’s body. Your baby’s palms, soles of the feet, and lips may be some of the only bare spots to be found! Some parents affectionately refer to the usually nonpigmented lanugo as “monkey hair.” But why is your human baby so furry?
Throughout your pregnancy, the developing baby floats in amniotic fluid. If you’ve ever watched your fingers and toes wrinkle in the bath, you may wonder how your baby’s skin isn’t damaged by the constant immersion in fluid. Part of the answer is that he’s covered in a substance called vernix, which forms a waxy or cheesy coating over his skin. Imagine slathering your body with a mixture of petroleum jelly and cottage cheese, and you’ll have an idea of what vernix might look and feel like. Lanugo gives vernix something to stick to, helping the coating stay on your baby’s skin to protect it.
Lanugo can also act as a form of insulation. Your baby looks pretty skinny during most of pregnancy, since body fat is one of the last areas to develop. Fortunately, your body warmth keeps her snug. Lanugo may aid in regulating the fetus’s body temperature. (In some rare cases of severe malnutrition, children and even adults may regrow lanugo, since the body is trying to keep itself warm without the aid of fat.)
Generally, you’ll never see lanugo in person. The fine hair usually falls out in the last month or so of your pregnancy. Your baby swallows it in the womb, and it turns into meconium, the first black, sticky poop your baby eliminates after birth.
My Baby’s Born, and Still Has Lanugo. Now What?
If your baby is born premature or even a few weeks early, there’s a fairly good chance he or she will still have a coating of lanugo. In some cases, even full-term babies are born with some of their “monkey hair” remaining.
Being born with lanugo doesn’t pose any danger to your baby, or to anyone who comes in contact with your baby. Some cultures may have traditional remedies meant to help the lanugo shed, but it’s really unnecessary to do anything about your baby’s body hair. Lanugo falls out naturally on its own over time. By the time your baby reaches 3 or 4 months old, all lanugo should be replaced by vellus hair (that is, the tiny hairs everyone grows over most of the body).
Some parents may worry that having a hairy baby means their child will deal with unwanted body hair later in life. Others may feel upset if their baby doesn’t look the way they imagined for the last 9 months. Admitting you’re not a big fan of lanugo doesn’t make you a bad parent.
If your baby’s lanugo is causing you stress, try keeping a few things in mind. Remember that lanugo is natural and perfectly healthy. It doesn’t mean anything is “wrong” with your baby, and it certainly doesn’t mean you’ll have to teach your toddler to shave before preschool! Growing and shedding lanugo is a normal process all babies go through. Yours is just finishing up the process outside of the womb.
It might even be worth taking some special pictures of your baby’s newborn down. Reimagining the tufts of hair on your baby’s shoulders as tiny angel wings, or capturing the kissable peach fuzz on that plump cheek, can celebrate the magical moments of infancy. Realizing that lanugo is just one more sign of how soft, delicate, and brand-new your baby is may help put minor concerns to rest and let you get back to enjoying your newborn.