Little pink and blue striped stocking caps have become tradition for our babies. We assume they keep our babies warm, but have you ever questioned if they’re really effective (hint: they’re not)? In fact, those little caps could do more harm than good – here’s why.
Baby Smell and Bonding
Newborn babies have a wonderful, almost intoxicating smell. If you’ve had a baby, you know what I’m talking about. If you’re expecting your first, you’ll soon know that joy This smell isn’t just to make you sigh happily, however. It has an important biological function and it makes a strong case for taking the hat off your newborn.
Mothers and babies are wired by nature to recognize each other’s smell. Your baby can recognize you on scent alone, and you can recognize your newborn on scent alone. These smells cause the two of you to bond strongly, right away. Nuzzling into your baby’s head feels natural because it’s essential to bonding and breastfeeding. Opt to be skin-to-skin with your baby, with no hat between you. You want to smell your baby, not fabric.
A Safe Third Stage
The smell of your new baby’s head isn’t just important for bonding, it’s important for your safety and baby’s well-being. The olfactory system expects certain cues right after your baby is born – these cues are supplied by the smell of your baby’s head as you snuggle with him or her after birth (it’s an even stronger cue than breastfeeding).
This trigger to your olfactory system (and limbic system) cues a massive rush of oxytocin, the “mothering hormone.” Oxytocin causes your uterus to contract, which shears the placenta from the wall of the uterus and forces an instant constriction of the blood vessels that were running to the placenta. This means a safe, effective third stage of labor for you (Odent, 2013).
This oxytocin high is also important for your mental well-being and for your baby. Your high levels of oxytocin increase your baby’s levels of oxytocin (in fact, they increase the oxytocin levels of everyone in the room!), which causes a stronger bond. It’s what’s responsible for the euphoria felt after natural childbirth – nature’s built-in safety and reward system. It’s triggered by snuggling and smelling your baby with no hat in the way.
Keeping Baby Cozy
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.
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.
Odent, Michel. “Preventing Postpartum Haemorrhage.” Midwifery Today. Spring 2013: 18-19.
E C Coles, H B Valman Br Med J. 1979 September 22; 2(6192): 734–735.
McCall EM, Alderdice F, Halliday HL, Jenkins JG, Vohra S. Interventions to prevent hypothermia at birth in preterm and/or low birthweight infants. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2010, Issue 3. Art. No.: CD004210. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD004210.pub4
Thea Pretorius, Gerald K. Bristow, Alan M. Steinman, and Gordon G. Giesbrecht
Thermal effects of whole head submersion in cold water on nonshivering humans
J Appl Physiol August 2006 101:669-675; published ahead of print April 13, 2006, doi:10.1152/japplphysiol.01241.2005
Ludington-Hoe SM, Lewis T, Morgan K, Cong X, Anderson L, Reese S.
J Obstet Gynecol Neonatal Nurs. 2006 Mar-Apr;35(2):223-31.