What to expect
The first year of a baby’s life is an exciting time, and their hair will go through lots of changes.
This period provides a great opportunity to start a strong foundation with a healthy hair care routine.
My ethos is: It’s never too early to start taking care of your daughter’s hair. In fact, I started a healthy hair care routine with my daughter from day one!!
During the first year of life as she develops, her hair is also developing. It will grow longer, get fuller in density and change in texture as time passes and she matures.
None of this needs to be daunting; we just need to understand what to do at each stage.
In the womb, your daughter develops her hair follicles, and by the time she is born, they will already be in place. By approximately week 22, a foetus will have around five million hair follicles on its body, with a set amount on its head as determined by race. Studies have found that afro-textured hair has the lowest density, with approximately 190 hairs per square centimetre, compared to Caucasian hair, which has approximately 227 hairs in the same space.
Only the follicles are in place, not necessarily the hair strands. Genetics and health determine when the hair strands begin to grow from the follicles.
Hair at birth
The number of actual hair strands (not follicles) that a baby is born with is again genetically determined. Some babies hit the hair lottery and are born with a full head of hair, while others have hardly any hair. It is impossible to predict with any accuracy how much will be present or what colour or texture the hair will be at birth.
Regardless of how much hair your daughter is born with, it’s important to start a hair care routine as soon as possible in order to (A) get into the habit and to (B) create the optimum environment for her hair to thrive, because you simply don’t know how close the hair beneath the skin is to growing out.
Skull at birth
Babies are born with two soft spots on their heads, called fontanelles. The back soft spot, triangular in shape, is called the posterior fontanelle and is normally the smaller of the two. The soft spot at the front is called the anterior fontanelle, and is larger and diamond in shape.
Babies are born with these so that their head shape can mould as they are passing through the birth canal. It is nature’s way of making their heads temporarily smaller.
These fontanelles fuse and close over time. The back fontanelle will normally close when the child is 6-8 weeks old, and the front fontanelle will normally close fully at around 18 months. Hence, in the first years of life we must be extremely delicate when caring for our daughters’ hair as their skulls are fragile and need a very soft touch!
Hair density at birth
From my own personal observations, babies at birth generally tend to fall into the following categories.
A baby born with a full head of hair will have hair that covers the majority of their scalp.
Babies can also be born with very fine hair, so fine that it may appear to be bald, but upon closer inspection, short, fine hairs will be visible.
Babies can also be born with little to no visible hair on their head. It is important to remember that if this is the case, the infant will have all their hair follicles in place under the skin.
Some babies are born without uniformity in the hair length. So it can seem longer in places and appear bald in others.
No matter how much hair they have at birth, the density of their hair will likely increase as their follicles mature and grow hair. Hair strands that were fine at birth will grow thicker over time.
The hair growth rate is determined by hormones, and it’s important to note that some babies will in fact lose all of their hair in the first six months of life due to them entering the telegen/shed phase in their hair cycle.
If this happens to your baby, don’t freak out. It’s normal. The good news is that babies will likely enter the anagen/growth phase very quickly afterwards.
Hair texture at birth
When babies are born, their hair will generally be at its finest and softest. Many babies who will later develop afro-textured hair will be born with wavy, curly and sometimes straight hair.
It’s important to be aware and understand in advance that your baby’s hair texture will change, and as it does so will the needs of her hair.
It’s also equally important to not get too attached to one type of hair texture. It’s really sad, but in my personal observation with having a girl, there can be extreme scrutiny in the black community on hair texture and hair texture changes.
Some people even see hair texture change as a negative thing.
When my daughter was around 6 months old, she had around 3-4” of soft curly hair, which I would often style in sleek bunches as that was a quick, easy and cute style. With this style, we went to a baby shower and met a woman who commented on how “pretty and soft and good” her hair was. I felt uncomfortable with her mentality and proceeded to explain that I had used a hair-curling product to emphasize and define the curls in her hair, making small talk.
Then, around a year later, we went to another function. I had again styled my daughter’s hair into bunches, but this time they were not sleek because her hair texture had changed to be more afro in texture and it wasn’t a suited to sleek styles.
Low and behold, enter the same woman. The first thing she said to me, before even saying “hello” or “how are you,” was “Her hair’s changed. When did that happen?” With a look of disappointment on her face, I could again tell by her tone that she was implying Bae’s hair had somehow turned ‘bad’ because it was was now more afro in texture.
I didn’t bother responding.
Did she really expect me to come up with the exact date that Bae’s hair had changed? I think I said something along the lines of “Yeah, it’s changed now, it looks so cute today!” to let her know that I wasn’t ashamed or unhappy with how her hair was progressing.
It was such an ignorant question, but it highlighted the all too common attitudes towards hair types. While outlooks on natural hair in the black community are changing for the better, it is important to be aware of the shortcomings we still face in our community.
I call the transition to more afro-textured hair ‘texture establishment.’ The changes in hair texture is just the journey hair will take towards its end texture.
It’s quite a journey that black hair texture can take, and for my daughter we went through around 4-5 textures before we arrived at her established texture. We went from straight to wavy to curly to more curly to afro.
At each stage, her hair had different requirements, but my general thinking is that as the hair texture gets curlier, it also gets drier and needs more moisture.
It’s important to note here that hair texture changes are caused by hormones and are totally normal. Generally, afro hair follows the trajectory of straighter to curlier, but a whole host of things can happen when a mix of environment, diet and genetics surround a child’s development. Some babies’ hair can change texture from curly to straight. An infant’s hair colour can even change throughout infantile development, going from light to dark or dark to light. Scientists don’t fully know the causation, but the fact is, this is all normal!
The key to navigating this journey successfully is in being receptive to the changes and being flexible. The hair will have different needs as it changes, so we must stay open-minded and ready to adapt our hair care practices as required.
Let it go
First and foremost, we need to get comfortable with the idea of change. We need to accept that hair texture will likely change, just like everything else in life.
We should never stay mentally fixated on a particular texture and merely hope that the hair stays like that. There is no product, no oil, no conditioner that can keep your child’s hair at a particular stage of its development. So let that one go, and let the hair do its thing. It has a life of its own and needs to live. Your part is in facilitating its life.
Because your daughter’s hair will change the most in its first year, I have broken down its stages to give you some guidance in expectations:
The hair will likely be at its softest at this time. It will tend to have a lot of natural sheen and can feel hydrated without the use of additional moisturizers.
The curl pattern will generally be much looser and straighter, and you will notice with time how the hair will get wavier and curlier, potentially losing some natural sheen.
During these three months of life, you generally do not need to do much with the hair besides maintaining its hydration. I recommend using water followed by olive oil. You will need to keep the hair hydrated, regardless of how moisturized it appears.
Appearance only tells half of the story. During this period, the hair may be very shiny and look very moisturized, but this may be due to its exposure to amniotic fluid for a prolonged period of time. This fluid offers continuous hydration when present, but after birth it will eventually dry out. Hence, your goal is to substitute and maintain moisture levels.
Seborrheic dermatitis or cradle cap is a common condition that usually appears in babies aged 1–3 months. It is generally harmless and can appear as large, greasy, yellow or brown scales on your baby’s scalp. Its exact cause is not completely clear, yet some theorize that it stems from a temporary hormone imbalance that can cause the sebaceous glands to go into overdrive, producing excess sebum, which then dries and crusts.
It is not contagious, but it can be distressing for mothers. You generally don’t need to see your doctor unless it becomes inflamed or spreads to other body parts.
Treating cradle cap
The temptation to flake it off the scalp is real. I know, because when my daughter had cradle cap, I had to fight the urge of doing it myself. There is a better way, which I used to eliminate my daughter’s cradle cap quickly and efficiently.
Warm 2-3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil in a pan over a low heat. Do not let it get hot; only warm it to a temperature that your baby can tolerate easily. You can test the temperature by putting some on the back of your hand.
Transfer the oil to a bowl and, using a cotton wool ball, gently dab it onto the affected area.
Gently rub it in in circular motions with a soft baby brush, the cotton wool or the pads of your fingers.
No flaking or scratching. Use a tissue to dab the excess oil from the hair if necessary.
Repeat this daily. You will find that over time, the scales will loosen and come away by the time you reach Step 3. Repeat this until the patch is gone.
It worked brilliantly for us and got rid of the cradle cap in less than a week!
At this point, the hair is likely to begin or advance in its journey towards its curlier texture. During this period, it is likely that you will need to modify your approach towards the hair as its needs change. Now is a good time to introduce a conditioner and leave-in conditioner into your hair care routine.
The curlier the hair, the drier it can be. I recommend upgrading from using just water to moisturize the hair to using water mixed with either a leave-in conditioner for infants or aloe vera juice.
Following either application, olive oil should also be applied. Shampoo is optional, but if you do decide to use it, then apply olive oil to the hair beforehand to prevent the shampoo from stripping or dying the hair.
During this tender age, you need to be alert and identify any dry patches of hair immediately. The majority of my daughter’s hair maintained moisture, but there was a patch of hair in her crown that seemed to dry out immediately after moisturizing and sealing. This patch of hair had much less sheen than the rest and it tangled constantly. My fear with the dry patch was that it was going to break off, leaving her with a bald or shorter patch on the crown. If you encounter the same, please see the solution in the ‘Common issues and FAQs’ chapter.
This period of my daughter’s hair journey was where challenges became apparent. The styles I was using prior to this stopped working altogether.
I generally wore her hair all out with a cute bow on the side. I did not braid it, but instead would wet it, put in leave-in conditioner and use a soft brush to style it, finishing off with the bow. It was pretty simple. At six months, her afro seemingly popped out overnight, and this style was no longer an option as her hair was now prone to tangling and dryness.
It can be tempting at this time to start using a blow-dryer on your daughter’s hair, as it will likely be longer and thicker at this time, but my advice is to avoid the hairdryer as it can cause dryness and damage.
What you can try instead is gently towel-drying the hair and then braiding it while still damp or banding it.
My main piece of advice for you during your daughter’s first year is to enjoy this tender time, including the changes in her hair. Always remember your number one priority is to keep it moisturized.
As we progress onto years one to two, moisturizing will remain a priority. It is the KEY to healthy and long hair, so better to start sooner rather than later!
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