Hats On Newborn Babies: Reasons To Ditch The Hat

Hats On Newborn Babies: Reasons To Ditch The Hat

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 the 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 breast feeding were almost twice as likely to have a PPH [post partum haemorrhage] compared to women who had both skin to skin contact and breast feeding.”

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 the 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 an undisturbed as possible. It’s the beginning of an attachment, a momentous and important moment that you will never, ever get back.

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  1. Looking for the author of Hats on Newborn Babies… Could you please share the evidence based information?

  2. Hi,

    I have read this before and I am all for it, but I’m wondering if there are any research studies to back up this idea. It makes sense to me, but as a birth doula I have seen providers put hats on babies’ heads regardless of the request not to. There seems to be a big concern about putting the baby at risk by not putting a hat on it. Providers are not getting the information about no hatting, and I think the only way to get through to them effectively is to provide research citations that will back it up. (The one study that was cited in this post doesn’t talk about hatting vs. no hatting, rather it was about skin-to-skin vs. no skin-to-skin.) Thanks!

  3. Not only is mother’s body best for helping a newborn get to temperature stability, since they can’t regulate their own temp for at least the first 8 hours, no newborn should be routinely bathed in the first hours of life. The WHO recommends no bath for the first 6 hours, and other resources say as much as 8. If, at least, the baby is bathed near or by the mother, at least the newbie can go right onto mother’s skin to help stabilize things. Many hospitals bathe newborns in the first few hours of life, sometimes for staff convenience, and if they don’t have low-read thermometers, they can really miss a bathed newborn who is hypothermic, no matter how well wrapped up and “hatted”. All mothers and babes need to be treated with this “best-evidence’ care. And mothers should know that they may refuse the hat and refuse the bath. it’s their baby, and it’s their legal right to do so.

    1. This Is very interesting, where I work we don’t recommend a bath for babies for at least 24 hours and preferably not several days. This has been our practice for the last 4/5 years

      1. Soon to be first time mom here exploring my options… If you don’t bathe within the first 24 hours, what do you do? Does all the gunk remain on the baby in that time?

        1. My last baby was not bathed within 24 hours. She was covered with vernix and the midwife said not to bathe her until it had all absorbed into her skin. I can’t remember now but she may not have been bathed until she was three days old. We just put clothes over her sticky skin.

        2. I didn’t bath mine till day 12. Just face and genitals with water.
          Only when cord stump fell off. Hospital and health visitors did recommend this and I did do no hat and skin to skin as much as poss.

      1. Kirstu’s request is incredibly reasonable! If an author is advocating something with such passion, the author should practice due dilligence in show that their recommendations are based in research and not anecdotal evidence. I don’t disagree with the author, but I do wish she had provided info that was evidence-based!

        1. I totally agree with Kristy. I am a midwife and have a Masters in Health research. Although skin to skin is absolutely amazing and should be initiated as much as possible, this is NOT related to the hat.
          Looking at the evidence used for example, hats/caps were used in almost all cased with skin to skin as well as a pre heated blanket being used.
          Also, stating that we do not lose most of our heat from our heads: this is based on research on healthy male adults whereby the head and neck is approximately 7% of body surface area. In infants < 10kg this is 20%. When a baby is just born the room temperature is hardly ever high enough and parts of babies skin not touching mums skin should be covered, including the (wet) head.
          Plenty of research has been done to show that hypothermia is becoming an increasing problem and most babies in hospitals actually have a temperature of 36.0-36.5 which is far from ideal. I totally agree that skin to skin is the best way to warm a baby and keep it warm but a mum cannot practically have this 24 hours a day. Wearing a hat/cap in the first two months does not cause over heating of a baby.
          The body odor of baby does stimulate mum in many good ways but not needed from the head specifically so a hat won't interfere.
          I am worried about this article as hypothermia and hypoglycaemia are becoming bigger issues now due to these type of articles warning/freightening new mums not to 'overheat' babies and consequently now leaving babies to go cold instead.
          I hope this reply will be allowed on and happy to share any articles but you can open any of the suggested articles and have a good look.

  4. I’m so glad I realize just how much of a say I have with my pregnancy, L&D and after to even the bathing!!!!! The last nurse gave my baby a bath in cool water. I questioned why ir was cool. She said it was warm. My hubby believes every word a doctor or nurse will say. My baby was screaming. i cut the bath short and help her to me. I wish I knew I could have denied the bath altogether. Makes me feel like a bad mom- not standing up for my daughter when I could have. This pregnancy will be completely different.

      1. Nope–I’ve seen many, many things done “routinely” without mom’s consent or even mom’s knowledge. Or dad’s, for that matter.

        1. Nope, it it legally battery if they bathe without your consent, per the hospital itself. You just have to make your lack of consent known. “No bath” is in my baby’s chart to make sure I have proof I did not consent. If a nurse tried to take my baby for a bath, I would say no. They cannot take a stable baby from your arms without your consent. If they do it anyway, you CAN take legal action. Know your rights!

    1. I am not sure why people choose to comment that they would like the choice to do something where there is evidence that it is not in the baby’s , and sometimes the mother’s best interests. Its like a glass of champagne to celebrate the birth. I want it therefore I should have the choice. Even if it is not recommended. Well go ahead if you so choose but why comment here that you wish to do something like that. Your desire to do so will be in contrast to the evidence. Just don’t expect everyone to celebrate your choice.

  5. I find this a little exaggerated?

    When I say hat, I mean any covering of the head.

    A hat out in the sun? A hat on the way home? A hat in the back yard? A hat at the beach.

    I don’t anticipate having a hat on my son when not necessary.

    When he is inside… practically naked. A onesie at most. Lots of cuddle time.

    1. This is talking about right after birth. When mom and baby need to be bonding. Obviuoly while outside sunning or playing if a hat is proper wether attire, go for it .

  6. I forgot to mention, a hat will definitely not stop my son’s scent.

    Sorry to those of you with broken noses? 😉

    Skin time. Tummy time. …

    1. What is your evidence to back up the fact that you say it won’t interfere with your son’s scent? Or do you think it won’t affect it?

  7. The studies linked only refer to very narrow statements, none provide any evidence that support the article’s claim. The first link shows that baby smell affects female reward centers in and out of pregnancy. Not a single reference to the pituitary or oxytocin. The second article and last 2 references are on skin to skin which is common practice now. Lastly, the BMJ article is a myth-buster article talking about humans in general and how much heat is lost. An infant’s head is a much greater percentage of body weight. While the articles support the preceding sentence, none actually support the article’s claim.

  8. I completely agree with nature taking its course and leaving the baby, skin to skin, for as long as possible unless there’s a specific medical reason/or reasons to do otherwise.

    I recently read one of THE MOST INCREDIBLE BOOK on the subject, written by Frederick Leboyer, M.D. (available on Amazon.com) titled BIRTH WITHOUT VIOLENCE, which I HIGHLY RECOMMEND not only to pregnant ladies, but for ANYONE interested in the subject just as I was!

    AWESOME READ and completely in line with this practice! I KNOW THAT IF YOU GET IT, YOU WILL TOTALLY ENJOY IT, ESPECIALLY IF YOU READ IT TWICE, as I AND my Mom did!

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