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Heartburn and Baby Hair: Is The Old Wives' Tale True?

By Krista Elliott

"Would you LOOK at that hair?!?! You must have had a lot of heartburn." 

Any mother of a mop-topped infant has heard those two statements about a dozen times a day since her baby was born. My youngest son was born with a shock of dark brown hair, which only got thicker and more impressive as he grew older. By the time he was 4 months old, he looked like he was wearing a darker version of Rip Taylor's toupee. He did not, however, mimic Rip's penchant for showering people with confetti, half-digested pablum being his projectile of choice.

And yes, I had heartburn. Savage heartburn. Over-the-counter antacids were about as useful as popping Tic-Tacs, and I had to go on prescription medication for it when I was about 30 weeks along. 

Talking to other mothers, both in-person and online, I've discovered over the years that this is definitely a common phenomenon. One mom I know had to sleep sitting up in a recliner for the last few months of her pregnancy because her heartburn was so vicious it completely ruled out the idea of lying down. And her baby, sure enough, was born with a ton of hair.

But were the two linked? Or is it just one of those old pregnancy myths that endures solely due to having a 50/50 chance of being right?

What Does the Science Say?

There haven't been a large number of studies on this subject, as fascinating as it is. However, a 2006 study had some really interesting results: It found that the relationship between heartburn severity and hair volume was "significant," and went on to say, "Most women who reported moderate or severe heartburn gave birth to babies with average or above average amounts of hair, and conversely, most women reporting no heartburn had babies with less than average or no hair."

The study was small (only 64 pregnant women), but the results are not wishy-washy by any stretch of the imagination. As it turns out, science backs up that there is a definite and observable link between heartburn and infant hair. 

What Causes It? 

The cause is where we get into the tricky part of things. Does the hair actually cause the heartburn? Does the heartburn cause the hair? Or is there a separate factor that contributes to both? 

The researchers in the aforementioned study believe it's that third option. They're proposing that pregnancy hormones contribute to both. (Goodness knows they contribute to about a billion other wacky physical symptoms.) So why do these hormones have this effect in some mothers but not in others? Likely for the same reason that not every woman's pregnancy is the same: We're all different and react to hormones in different ways. At least, that's the explanation that will have to suffice, until we know more. 

In the meantime, if you're pregnant and popping antacids like clockwork, you may want to line up an appointment with a kids' hairstylist. You'll need it sooner than you think. 


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