Heartburn during pregnancy, goes the old wives’ tale, is a sure sign of a hairy baby. I heard it over and over again when I was pregnant with my daughter.
Truth to tale, nine months and dozens of pineapples later (a heartburn-relieving fruit, so say the wives), out popped my baby girl, with lots of dark, velvety hair on her head. She also had thick, fluttery lashes, and black peach fuzz all over her teeny belly, bottom and biceps.
“You, too, were a little monkey when you were born,” reassured my mother, affectionately, as we watched the nurse give my baby her first bath. “Oh, don’t fret,” the nurse piped up. “It’ll be gone before you know it.” That soft, downy hair is called lanugo (pronounced “la-NOO-go”). It’s produced by fetal hair follicles during the second trimester and keeps a baby warm inside the womb. Many babies lose their lanugo in utero (around 32 to 36 weeks), where it’s shed into the amniotic fluid. Other babies, particularly preemies, are born with their lanugo, which usually falls out within the first few weeks, and is replaced by vellus hair, which is finer and harder to see.
Hair is a common area of concern for new parents, says Toronto paediatrician Beverly Kupfert. Some worry about too much hair, while others worry about not enough. “Just because a baby is still bald at 18 months or beyond does not mean she won’t have beautiful hair thereafter. There is a very wide variation of what’s normal.” For Renita Jenkins, a mother in Yellowknife, it wasn’t her infant’s body hair that surprised her—her daughter had very little lanugo. It was the just-back-from-the-salon, jet-black pixie ’do her baby was born with.
“I’m fair, and my husband’s bald, so we definitely get some funny looks,” says Jenkins.
Her daughter’s mane is growing lighter over time, but she still has mounds of hair, and appears much older than she is. “We had her wearing barrettes by one month, and pigtails by three months. She’s 13 months now, and I’ve already had to trim her bangs four times.”
Karen Williamson, a hairstylist at a Toronto location of Melonhead, the popular cross-Canada franchise salon for tots, is used to giving infants their first trim. “I see babies as young as two or three months old,” she says. Parents often ask her about the texture of their child’s hair and how it might change, often lamenting the loss of those cherubic curls. “Just because a baby has curly hair in his first years doesn’t mean it will stay that way through adulthood,” she explains. “Hair changes all the time.”
Case in point: Toronto preschooler Sophie Goldman was bald past her first birthday, then grew a straight and short, mod-style hairdo in year two. She now has a mop of brown curls, says her similarly curly-haired mom, Bianca Goldman. “She went from Jean Seberg to a brunette Raggedy Ann.”
My daughter, now three, has a full mane of soft black curls that often turns heads. She also has a few patches of peach fuzz on her body.
“With some cultures, body hair can be more common and may persist beyond the first few months of life,” says Kupfert. This is something I know all too well. (We’re Greek, after all.) I could open my own Madame Tussauds with the amount of wax I’ve used in my lifetime. My mini-me is still too young to care about the fuzz, but I’ll be prepared if and when she begins to ask about it. I’ve already started a laser fund.
A version of this article appeared in our June 2013 issue with the headline “Hairy tales,” p. 74.