More often than not, you’ll see birth announcement photos featuring a gorgeous little freshly born baby, swaddled in a hospital blanket, with a cute little hat covering his or her head.
Hats on newborn babies seem to be the normal thing to do.
Depending on where you gave birth, the notion of ‘hatting’ a newly born baby 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.
In the past, it was considered standard practice to put hats on the heads of all newborn babies, though many hospitals now only offer hats to premature or low birth weight babies.
At some hospitals, babies born via c-section, or after an induction, may also be offered hats as they recover from the birth.
Reasons newborn babies don’t need a hat
For healthy mothers and babies who’ve had a normal birth, many healthcare professionals are now not bothering with recommending hats immediately after birth, and here’s why:
#1: It covers up the all-important, oxytocin triggering newborn baby smell
Hmmm, newborn baby smell, also known as the best smell, ever. That smell, though beautiful, is also pretty important in terms of biology. From the moment your baby is born, she recognises your smell. You are also biologically primed to recognise the scent of your baby.
A study in 2003 discovered what new mothers already knew: that delightful new baby smell creates a pleasurable response in a new mother’s brain. It’s mother nature’s simple, and oh so clever tool to help mothers bond with their newborn babies.
So instead of breathing in the fresh scent of laundry washing powder, choose at least a full hour of undisturbed skin-to-skin contact after the birth. Nuzzle into your baby’s head and soak up some more of that delicious scent.
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 a rush of oxytocin, which will cause your uterus to contract and helps to safely expel the placenta. Mother nature has perfectly effective mechanisms in place to make sure birth works well.
For more information about the importance of an undisturbed hour after birth, see our article here.
Ditch the hat #2: Your baby doesn’t need it
It’s a common misconception that newborn babies need to wear hats to stay warm (right after birth). In fact, there is no need to rely on hats to keep your baby warm, because you will be keeping your baby warm.
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.
It’s possible for babies to overheat wearing hats while indoors — 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.
Wait, don’t we lose most of our heat from our heads?
No. This myth was debunked in a study which was published in the British Medical Journal in 2008 and by another study in 2006 (Pretorius). Besides, research has shown skin-to-skin contact is effective in regulating a baby’s body temperature and has many more benefits.
What to do instead
A study in 2010 found skin-to-skin contact after childbirth leads to better thermal regulation, a faster third stage of labour (placenta separating), and improved rates of exclusive breastfeeding. A more recent study published in 2015 found, “women who did not have skin to skin and breastfeeding were almost twice as likely to have a PPH [post partum haemorrhage] compared to women who had both skin to skin contact and breastfeeding.”
Of course, it’s not possible in all cases to experience skin to skin and immediate breastfeeding. 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.
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 and prevent PPH. 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!” immediately after birth. This was coined by a passionate women’s and baby’s advocate, Carla Hartley. Any patting or chatting should only be done by the mother, with the father right there too.
The precious moments right after birth are very important and should be undisturbed as possible. It’s the beginning of an attachment, a momentous and important moment that you will never, ever get back.