Here’s a beautiful memory for you. It’s D-day and you’re rushing to the hospital, a place you are going to walk out from holding your brand new baby. You are wheeled to the delivery room and thus begin the most amazing process of giving birth to a brand new life. You begin to go through the stages of labour.
You summon every last ounce of energy and give one last mighty push… and your baby is finally here! You hear his cry and you see his sweet little face for the first time as you tenderly cradle him in your arms.
He’s taken away briefly from you to be weighed and cleaned up. He’s returned to you all wrapped up and with a tiny hat snugly covering his head. He nestles up to you and opens his sweet rosebud mouth in an adorable yawn. He is here and he is yours.
Let’s go back a few steps in this memory, shall we? Right up to the part where a little hat is put on your baby’s head. Covering a baby’s head has become such a standard part of the birthing process that we don’t even give it a second thought. But what if we told you that putting a hat on your newborn is not necessary, and may even be harmful?
Go on, nuzzle up to your baby’s head and take a good whiff of his delicious smell!
According to Dr Charu Narayanan of Complete Heathcare International (CHI), unless your baby is born premature or is underweight (under 2000 grams in weight), it is recommended that mums ditch that cute little newborn hat.
Here are three reasons why newborns don’t need hats:
1. Mmmm — that intoxicating newborn smell!
If you already have a baby, you know about that unique and utterly delicious smell that your baby had when he was born. If you are expecting your first baby, then we’re sure you won’t ever have smelled anything as intoxicating as your newborn.
Mums, did you know this unique newborn smell actually has an important biological purpose? According to Dr Narayanan, the emotional relationship between a mother and her newborn begins with mutual recognition right from the start of pregnancy till after birth.
In this relationship, the sense of smell plays a very important role in enhancing the mother-child bonding experience. You and your newborn baby are wired by nature to recognise each other on smell alone. For your baby, the process starts in the uterus when he is exposed to smells in the amniotic fluid, says Dr Narayanan.
Smelling your baby’s “signature” smell releases the hormone oxytocin, which promotes bonding and breastfeeding.
After birth, sweat glands in your para axillary (near the arm pit) area and those located in the nipple/areola, provide an important “olfactory signature” unique to you, and one that your baby can recognise. This “signature” allows your little one to locate your nipple soon after birth and thereby establish the very important process of breastfeeding.
Similarly, studies have shown that your baby’s wonderful newborn fragrance lights up areas of your own brain with pleasure and recognition.
When your baby’s head is covered by a hat, it prevents that remarkable newborn fragrance from coming through, interfering with that all-important bonding process. So mums, instead of inhaling the smell of clothes detergent, take the hat off and instead nuzzle your baby’s head and get giddy with love on his delicious fragrance!
Your body heat is more than enough to keep your healthy, full-term newborn warm and snug.
2. Warm your baby and your heart with skin-to-skin contact
One of the main reasons hats are placed on newborns is the belief that they lose heat through their heads. Research has proven that this is not the case. However, it is true that healthy newborn babies are at risk of low body temperature (hypothermia) soon after birth.
Dr Narayanan explains that a newborn baby may lose 150 kilo-calories per minute when placed unattended at room temperature after birth. However, rather than placing a hat on your baby to prevent this loss of energy and heat, “studies have shown that early skin-to-skin contact is in fact the best way to retain heat in healthy newborns.”
Skin-to-skin contact between a mum and a healthy, full-term newborn also significantly reduces the risk of hypothermia within six hours of birth when compared with conventional incubator use. What’s more, in a warm climate like ours, overheating can be a real danger with covering your baby with a hat and over-wrapping in general.
Skin-to-skin contact with your newborn also floods your whole being with pure love!
There’s another really important reason why unhindered skin-to-skin contact between you and your precious baby is so important: it floods your body with an overwhelming amount of love for your little one. How?
Oxytocin is a hormone produced by the pituitary gland and is also known as the “love hormone”. As soon as your baby is placed in skin-to-skin contact with you, touch as well as olfactory stimuli (yes, taking a deep whiff of your little one’s head without a hat in the way!) cause a surge of this hormone.
The result is a relief of maternal stress and anxiety as well as the development of bonding and affection.
However, skin-to-skin contact between mum and baby is not always possible, especially if the little one is born prematurely or is sick. In this case, it’s probably best for your baby to be well-clothed, possibly with the inclusion of a hat.
But if you and your little one are perfectly healthy and you are offered a hat at the hospital, say “no” to it and instead provide your baby with plenty of warmth- and love-inducing skin-to-skin time.
Don’t let a hat get in the way of some remarkable biological processes, all designed to bring and your baby closer together.
3. Bring on that final stage of labour
The surge of the “love hormone” has another very important function; it activates the third and final stage of labour, the expelling of the placenta.
Here’s how it happens. When you snuggle your baby and smell his special smell, the resulting surge of oxytocin not only floods you with love. It also causes your placenta to separate from the uterine wall, which “quickly constricts the blood vessels in the placenta after birth and prevents a large amount of blood loss”, according to Dr Narayan. What this means for you is a safe “grand finale” to your labour process.
Dr Narayanan explains that oxytocin also “constricts the tissue around milk ducts in the breast, facilitating breastfeeding.”
Mums, it’s truly remarkable how one little item of newborn clothing — a hat — can stand in the way of the marvellous biological processes explained in this article that are as old as the hills and lead to perhaps the most important outcome of all — pure love.
You now know what not to pack in your hospital bag when going in to have your baby! Mums, do share your thoughts on this article by posting a comment below — as always, we would love to hear from you.