Lanugo: What is it? And why are babies born with it?

Were you surprised to find that your beautiful little bundle was covered in fine hair when you brought them into the world? It might seem odd, but it’s completely normal, temporary, and nothing to worry about.

Why are some newborns covered in body hair and what causes it?

This soft, fine hair covering is called lanugo. It’s an essential part of foetal development and begins to develop in the womb somewhere between week 14 and week 20. It is usually gone before a baby is born. However, some babies, particularly premature bubs, can be born with body hair.

What is the purpose of lanugo?

Lanugo plays a role in protecting the foetus, and keeping them insulated and warm. It does this by helping the vernix (the sticky, cheese-like protective substance that covers the baby in-utero) bind to the skin. You might like to read Newborn skin: What’s normal? for more information.

What does lanugo look like?

Lanugo hair can range from light to dark in colour, with the baby’s genetics playing a role. It will be soft, feathery, and almost fur-like. It’s often seen on a baby’s back, tailbone, and shoulders, but it can grow anywhere there are hair follicles.

When does lanugo fall off?

Most babies will shed the hair in the womb in the last weeks of pregnancy. It then mixes with the amniotic fluid, and because the baby swallows this fluid, lanugo is actually their first food! After birth, they’ll pass the lanugo in their first poos, called meconium.

However, about 30% of full-term babies are born with some lanugo, and it’s more likely if they’re born before 37 weeks. Rest assured, it will fall off on its own but may take several weeks, and even months for some babies. If you’re concerned at all, speak to your GP or maternal and child health nurse.

After the lanugo is shed, it will be replaced by the fine peach-fuzz body hair that all humans have, otherwise known as vellus hair. It continues to help protect and regulate body temperature in children until adult hair grows in.

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