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Off with their Hats?

Off with their Hats?



Your beautiful baby is born after a perfect birth.  You hold him against your chest, drop your head, and take a deep, soul-filling breath of his… hat??  Where did the hat come from?  Watch a mainstream childbirth video, and you’ll probably see hands swoop in right away to settle a hat on that still-wet head.  But why?

The hat is probably a hold-over from the days when newborns were whisked away from their mothers and had to maintain their body temperatures abnormally, with no vast and loving Mama-furnace to lie against.  Babies are now kept with their mothers, but instead of receiving the embrace of a blanket that says, “Here, mother and baby, warm yourselves as one,” there is the swift descent of a hat that says, “Here, baby, it’s a cold world, and you are on your own in it.”

But is it a good thing to do?  Well, if mother and baby are kept in skin contact there’s certainly no research to say that a hat is helpful.  There is research to indicate that in the event of a brain bleed following the delivery, cooling the baby’s head is important.    And we certainly know a hat changes a newborn’s appearance from the wise look of someone from a distant star to the slightly goofy look of someone returning from a successful shopping expedition.  Is there a hat because all commercial ventures – even hospitals – like to give the customers a free gift?  Is it there because others want to demonstrate control?  Because someone thinks it’s cute, like the gratuitous bow at the dog groomer’s? 

The hat interferes with those first raw gazes that you and your baby have toward each other.  It’s one more pair of hands intervening at a time when you want the rest of the world to disappear.  It interferes with your ability to smell and feel your newborn.  There is no research supporting its use.  It’s a holdover from those strange times when babies were not kept with their mothers post-birth.  Mother Nature made many human
newborns furry-topped but many others bald.  If a warm head at birth were that important, wouldn’t all human babies be furry-topped?

Without the hat, a mother dips her head down to s-n-i-f-f and rub her cheek and breathe, and the very presence of her face and cheeks and breath warm and dry the top of the baby’s head and perhaps contribute to that early, life-long, crazy-glue love affair.  Put a hat on, and Mama doesn’t sniff, or rub her cheeks, or perform any of those other innate little head-top rituals, or if she does, she doesn’t get the same feedback.  Does it matter?  Who knows? 

We do know that there’s no research to support the hat.  And we don’t know how important it is not to have it.  Trust yourself to mother well, be alert to the many tiny intrusions on this self-sufficient system, keep your baby with you… and let the outsiders wear the hat if they like.

 ©2014 Diane Wiessinger, MS, IBCLC

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