More often than not, those Facebook birth announcement photos feature a gorgeous little baby, swaddled in a hospital blanket, with a cute little hat covering their head.
In the past, it was considered standard practice to put hats on the heads of all newborn babies. Today, depending on where you give birth, the notion of ‘hatting’ a newborn will either seem like a normal part of the post-birth process, or a non-issue. The use of hats seems to vary between hospitals. Many hospitals now only offer hats to premature or low birth weight babies. At some hospitals, baby born via caesarean may also be offered hats as they recover from the birth.
However, for healthy mothers and babies born after a spontaneous birth, many healthcare professionals are now not bothering with recommending hats, and here’s why:
Hmmm, newborn baby smell, also known as the best smell, ever. That smell, though beautiful, is also pretty important in terms of biology. The moment your baby is born, she recognises your smell, and you are also biologically tuned to recognise the scent of your baby. This helps you to bond, as you nuzzle into your baby’s head to soak up some more of that delightful scent. Instead of breathing in the smell of a hat, choose skin-to-skin with your baby immediately after birth, and make the most of the bonding benefits that your baby’s sweet-smelling head can offer.
It’s not just bonding that gets a helping hand from that newborn smell, the third stage of labour is also triggered by a big sniff. After the birth, one of the cues that tells your body that it’s time to expel the placenta, is a noseful of your baby’s scent. Once that happens, you will experience an increase in oxytocin, which will cause your uterus to contract and helps to safely expel the placenta.
It is a common misconception that newly born babies need to wear hats to stay warm. In fact, there is no need to rely on hats to keep your baby warm.
Studies done decades ago proved conclusively that stocking caps do not help keep baby heads warm (Coles, 1979; McCall, 2010). They’re just ineffective. In fact, studies also show that the belief “we lose most of our heat through our heads” is also false (Pretorius, 2006). Hats on newborns may actually cause their heads to overheat. So how do we keep our newborn babies warm? Nature has the answer, and NICU units around the world already use it: you keep your baby warm.
That’s right, your body keeps your baby’s body at the correct temperature. It was designed to. In fact, you not only keep your baby’s temperature regulated, you also regulate your baby’s breathing pattern, heart rate, and even blood sugar levels (Ludington-Hoe, 2006). All of that magic happens when your baby is skin-to-skin with you and your body adjusts your temperature to keep your baby at the perfect temperature. NICU units call it “kangaroo care” – it works with preemies and full-term babies.
Your body temperature helps to regulate your baby’s body temperature, which is why skin-to-skin contact is so important in the hours following the birth. During skin-to-skin contact, if your baby feels too hot, your body will cool down, and if your baby feels too cold, your body will heat up.
Babies can actually overheat wearing hats indoors, and experts advise removing hats as soon as you are indoors. This should apply to hospitals too, where temperatures are often higher than in some homes.
A 2010 study (Gabriel, 2010) found that skin-to-skin contact after birth leads to better thermal regulation, a faster third stage of labour, and also improved rates for exclusive breastfeeding at the time of hospital discharge.
Bear in mind that it is not possible in all cases to do skin to skin. If you are separated from your baby, have a sick or premature baby or perhaps he or she is having a few troubles after the birth, putting clothes and a hat on, or using a warmer, would be the best option. Uninterrupted, skin to skin time is for well mothers and babies.
So if all is well and you are offered a hat in the hospital, explain instead that you would rather hold your baby skin-to-skin, and let your body help regulate your baby’s temperature. Your baby should be placed directly on your chest, skin-to-skin, with a warm blanket placed over the two of you to help you maintain body heat. Now, lie back, relax, and enjoy that gorgeous new baby smell whilst nature takes care of the rest.
Some birth professionals have adopted the saying: “No hatting, patting, or chatting!”, which was coined by the wonderful women’s and baby’s advocate, Carla Hartley. The patting and chatting should only be done by mum, with dad close by of course.
Keep your newborn skin-to-skin on your chest. A blanket can go over both of you to keep you cozy, and no hat needs to come between you and that powerful, precious baby smell.
The moments right after birth are SO important, and should be an undisturbed as possible. It’s the beginning of an attachment, a precious and important moment that you will never, ever get back.