Felt surprised when holding your baby for the first time and finding a thick mop of hair on their shoulder or head? That’s what we all call Lanugo! It’s tiny thicker hair than the usual one mainly responsible for insulating the baby during development in the uterus. However, it doesn’t end at this, there’s lots more that you should know about lanugo.
Stick to this article as we take you through all you should know about Lanugo. We have covered everything, from what it is and what its function is to when it goes away and more. Without further ado, let’s dive right into it!
Types of Body Hair Developed in Human
Before getting straight into the Lanugo and its description, why not look at the description of the types of hair that grow on the human body in different life stages?
It develops during fetal development in the uterus. It’s fine and soft and grows all over the baby’s body.
It’s short and fine, relatively lighter-colored containing little to no pigment. It’s only one to two centimeters lengthy and grows on most body parts except on the hand’s palm, lips, foot’s sole, the navel, and some external genital areas.
It’s thick, dark, and long hair growing on the scalp, etc. It might get replaced with vellus because of the increased production of androgenic hormones.
All about Lanugo!
Lanugo, the very first hair produced by hair follicles, is thin, downy, and usually unpigmented, that around 1/3rd of babies are born with. Like other hair types, it’s also derived from ectoderm. The lanugo hair follicle comprises around 20 different cell types, including fibroblasts, keratinocytes, mesenchymal cells, germinal matrix cells, and follicle stem cells.
It appears in 16 weeks of gestation and gets abundant by week 20. Although in normal cases, it is shed into the amniotic fluid in the seventh or eighth month of gestation, i.e., before a month, sometimes babies are born with it. Later, it goes away within a few weeks as it gets replaced by relatively less thick hair called vellus hair, covering the same surface.
Do you know? Mammals like elephants and seals are often born all covered with Lanugo, and fetal dolphins and whales also develop it.
What Does Lanugo Do?
Lanugo is a vital part of fetal development, mainly concerned with keeping the baby warm and protecting its skin when in the uterus. It assists vernix sticking to the skin, which, in turn, acts as a protective barrier between amniotic fluid and the fetus’ body.
Without Lanugo and vernix, baby’s delicate skin is prone to damage caused by amniotic fluid. Lanugo is also responsible for regulating the body temperature and keeping the baby warm until the baby develops enough fat for insulation.
Studies have also shown that the Lanugo plays a role baby’s growth by stimulating the sensory receptors by sending vibration signals. It’s mainly evident from the fact that the baby’s growth alleviates as Lanugo falls off. However, experts are not quite sure how it happens.
When Does Lanugo Go Away?
In most cases, Lanugo sheds before birth. However, around 30% of full-term babies don’t go through lanugo removal and are born with hair on their skin. The chances of babies born with Lanugo are even more likely in premature births (before 37 weeks).
Typically, it falls off at the ending 8 weeks of gestation. As described earlier, it is shed into the amniotic fluid. As the baby swallows the fluid, Lanugo becomes constituents of your baby’s first food. Yeah, you get it right! It’s why you witness tiny hair in your baby’s first poop at birth. These are named meconium.
On the other hand, in babies born with Lanugo, complete shedding occurs within the first two months of their life. However, babies can still have fine hair at the neck base, above the tailbone, and on the top of the ears. These are normal and shouldn’t be the cause of concern.
Does Lanugo Need to Be Treated?
Human fetal Lanugo doesn’t need to be treated; these go away on their own. Even if your baby is born with loads of hair covering the body, it will shed it within a week after birth. Keep reading to learn what you can do to speed up the process of lanugo shedding. However, keep in mind it’s not necessary to do so.
What You Can Do to Speed up Lanugo Shedding in Babies?
Gently massage your baby’s skin; it can be way effective if done without ensuring risks. Baby’s skin is sensitive and can face redness, soreness, or dryness if rubbed inadvertently. Long story short, you should prefer leaving the hair alone, allowing them to shed naturally.
Who Else Can Get Lanugo?
Lanugo is normal in premature babies; however, it may unnaturally reappear in adults as a leading sign of various health conditions, including severe malnutrition. As a natural response, dermal papilla releases molecular signals for detecting dysregulation of temperature and causing a series of signaling events, leading to the lanugo hair formation.
Hop on below to learn about different diseases leading to Lanugo.
Eating Disorders – Bulimia and Anorexia Nervosa
As Lanugo protects the body and skin, adults facing severe malnutrition can grow it later in life. It mainly happens in eating disorders like bulimia and anorexia nervosa. People with bulimia overeat to induce vomiting in a bid to avoid gaining weight. Whereas people suffering from anorexia avoid eating or eat smaller portions to avoid gaining weight.
Both of these disorders can lead to nutritional deficiency and not enough body fat. This disrupts body temperature because of the thickening of the insulting layer. It’s when Lanugo begins growing as a physiological response for ensuring body insulation.
It’s a relatively rare cause, yet certain cancer tumors can leave people growing Lanugo. According to a study in 2007, a prostate cancer patient grew Lanugo-like hair when suffering from the disease. However, it went away after the treatment. Another research carried out back in 1978 featured a man with lung cancer growing Lanugo-like hair on all his feet, hands, torso, and face.
These individual researches were mainly focused on linking prostate cancer and lung cancer with lanugo growth, which is why some authors find it far from conclusive. However, they do rise a possibility of linking the two.
Seeking help from a doctor, developing good eating habits, and maintaining a healthy body weight are the keys to treating Lanugo caused by eating disorders. You will have to go through different treatments depending on the severity of your disorder; however, we have named a few:
- Individual counseling
- Nutritional counseling
- Support groups
- Inpatient residential or hospital treatment
- Medication (mood stabilizers, antipsychotics, and antidepressants)
How Can Lanugo Be Detected?
Lanugo is detectable via physical examination; however, if it’s caused by other diseases, then a thorough assessment is carried out. It includes the evaluation for bulimia and anorexia nervosa, a complete metabolic panel, and a complete blood count. Detailed assessment includes indicating teratoma. Moreover, different parameters like hair thickness, distribution, and presence can correlate with the severity of the disease.
How to Differentiate Between Lanugo and Vellus?
As Lanugo and vellus are quite similar, their differentiation can be tricky, leaving people confused about if they have Lanugo or vellus. One way to tell if someone is growing Lanugo is to check for the hair growth on body parts where there were no hair before, like on hands.
Should You Remove Laguna Hair?
Lanugo treatment in adults involves treating the disease causing it. The hair will go on its own afterward. However, removing the lanugo hair, either by shaving or any other method, can trigger irritation and is of no use, as the hair will regrow until the underlying cause is treated.
Long story short, the growth and shedding of Lanugo hairs during fetal development is a natural process. However, if you give birth to a premature baby, expect them to have lanugo hair. It doesn’t need any treatment for removal as it sheds on its own during the first few weeks or months of the baby’s life.
On the other hand, the development of lanugo hair due to other consequences like eating disorders and cancer is a sign of body temperature dysregulation. In these cases, you need to consult doctors, and the lanugo hair will go away with the disease.
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