What Is Lanugo in Newborns?
If you’re not familiar with newborn babies, the sight of a baby covered in hair can be distressing. However, body hair on preemies and even newborns is normal and not a cause for concern.
Lanugo is important to your baby while she is developing in the womb. It often goes away before birth, but sometimes it sticks around until the baby is born and for a few weeks after. Learn more about this baby body hair, why it’s there, when it goes away, and when it could be the sign of a problem.
What Is It?
Lanugo is a type of soft, fine body hair. It is the first hair that grows out of your baby’s hair follicles while your child is still developing.
It is more common to see lanugo on preemies, but full-term newborns can be born with this soft, downy hair covering, too. It might be surprising to see, but it is normal. Usually, there is no need to worry.
Lanugo may look like white or dark hair, or it may not have any pigment or color to it. You may be able to see and feel lanugo on the baby’s back, shoulders, arms, forehead, and cheeks. It can be anywhere on the body except the parts that do not have hair follicles like the lips, palms of the hands, soles of the fee, sides of the fingers and toes, genitals, and nails.
Lanugo may have many functions and researchers continue to study what it does. Experts believe it has a few important roles.
- Regulate the baby’s temperature. Your baby will not begin to put on weight and develop a layer of fat to keep warm until the last few months of pregnancy. The growth of lanugo (a term from the Latin word “lana” which means wool) is believed to help regulate the baby’s temperature, hold in heat, and keep the baby warm inside the womb.
- Protect the skin. During pregnancy, your baby is surrounded by fluid in the amniotic sac. Constant exposure to the amniotic fluid affects the skin and body temperature. Your baby has a thick, white, greasy substance called vernix caseosa that coats her skin and provides a barrier to protect her from the effects of the fluid. The vernix needs lanugo. It sticks to the vernix so that it can stay in place on the skin. Without the hair to cling to, the vernix could slide off the body. As your child gets closer to her due date (40 weeks), she will have less lanugo, less vernix, and less protection against the effects of floating in amniotic fluid. You can see these effects if a baby is overdue. The baby will often have wrinkly, peeling skin.
- Stimulate growth and development. Studies show that the movement of lanugo on your baby’s skin may play a role in the release of hormones that reduce stress and stimulate your child’s growth inside the womb.
How Long It Lasts
Lanugo begins to show up on your baby’s skin around the fourth or fifth month of your pregnancy (by about 16 to 20 weeks). At approximately 28 weeks, the lanugo is at its most abundant point. Then, it will start to fall off.
It usually begins to shed during the seventh or eighth month of pregnancy. There will be less and less lanugo as your baby gets closer to her due date. Many full-term babies lose all their lanugo before they are born, but it does not always happen this way.
If your child is born with lanugo, it will most likely fall out and go away on its own within a week or two. However, it could last longer and still be normal, especially if your baby is a preemie.
Whether your baby’s lanugo falls out before or after he’s born, it will eventually go away. When it does, another type of hair grows in its place. The new hair is called vellus hair. Vellus hair is similar to lanugo but thinner and not as noticeable. It is the hair that will cover your baby’s body throughout childhood. Lanugo and vellus hair are not the same as the hair that is on the head or that develops during puberty. (That type of hair is called terminal hair.)
Lanugo in Different Babies
Lanugo can show up differently in different babies. Depending on the length of your pregnancy it can be absent or abundant. Depending on your family’s genetics, it can be light or dark. The following are ways that it may show up in your baby.
- Term Infants. A term newborn (37 to 42 weeks) may or may not have a lot of visible lanugo. The appearance of lanugo is common in up to 30 percent of full-term newborns.
- Overdue (Post-term) Babies. Babies born after 42 weeks may not have any visible lanugo.
- Preemies. Babies tend to shed their lanugo the closer they get to full-term. Since preemies are born early (before 37 weeks), they often have a lot of lanugo. Lanugo in preemies may take longer to go away.
- Light Skin Family Background. Lanugo may be light or have no color in babies with lighter skin.
- Dark Skin Family Background. Babies with darker complexions tend to have darker hair and, therefore, darker lanugo. The darker color of the hair makes it more noticeable.
You don’t have to do anything special to treat the lanugo on your premature baby or newborn. The following are some tips for dealing with baby body hair.
- Be Patient. Time is the best treatment for newborn lanugo. You can just leave your baby’s hair alone, and it will eventually disappear without help. A newborn should lose the hair in a few days or weeks. Although, it’s still normal if it lasts longer.
- Gentle massage. If you really want to help it along, you can try to massage the area very gently with mild baby oil. You want to use extreme care to prevent damaging your baby’s skin. And, be sure to use a product that will not irritate your baby’s skin or eyes.
- Don’t use hair removers. You shouldn’t wax, shave, or use a body hair remover to get rid of the hair. These products could be dangerous and harm your baby.
- Talk to the Doctor. If you’re worried or have questions, the doctor can reassure you that your baby is healthy and the hair is normal.
Do Babies Eat Lanugo?
Babies lose their lanugo while they are still in the womb. It falls off into the amniotic fluid that surrounds them. The babies do drink that fluid along with whatever is floating in it. So, yes, babies do eat their lanugo. Then, after the baby takes in the lanugo, it makes its way through your baby’s system and becomes part of the first poop, which is called meconium.
Does It Grow Back?
- Extreme Malnourishment. Lanugo can be a sign of very poor nutrition to the point of starvation. It can result from eating disorders such as anorexia or other conditions that cause severe weight loss. It develops when there isn’t enough body fat to keep the body warm. As a means of protection, the body can grow a layer of lanugo. The soft, downy hair insulates the body to try to keep it warm. The lanugo should go away with the treatment of the disorder.
- Health Problems. Studies show that, although rare, lanugo can be a sign of certain health conditions such as cancer, endocrine disorders, or metabolic disorders.
- Hypertrichosis Lanuginosa. This condition of excessive growth of lanugo or lanugo-like hair is a rare genetic disorder. A baby can be born with hypertrichosis lanuginosa or it can be something that develops later in life. When a child is born with it, this rare disorder is sometimes called “Wolfman” or “Werewolf Syndrome.” If it develops later in life, it could be from a health condition, eating disorder, or the side effect of a medication.
A Word From Tips For Healthy Living
Lanugo is a natural part of development for babies, but it’s not natural after the newborn stage. If your baby’s lanugo lingers beyond a few months, you can point it out to your pediatrician. If lanugo develops on an older child, teenager, or adult, you should consult a doctor. It could be a sign of a serious health problem that needs treatment.