Have you been waiting anxiously to find out what hair color your newborn will have? Are you wondering if there’s any way to predict it? It’s normal for any expectant mom, maybe even before the positive test, to wonder what your little one will look like.
You already know that your baby will resemble you in some ways. But then we must also take into consideration how much influence your partner’s genes will have. Babies are like 3D copies of mom and dad but in a smaller (and cuter) package.
Today our focus is on hair color — what determines it, any influencing factors, and when it becomes permanent. So let’s dive in!
What Determines Baby’s Hair Color?
This is a fact that may surprise many, but a baby’s hair color is actually determined from the moment of fertilization. You see, the sperm and egg both hold copies of the genetic makeup of each parent. That’s 23 chromosomes from you and 23 from your partner (1).
Now, when the egg and sperm meet they fuse together and form what we call a zygote. Zygote means “yoked” or “joined” in Greek, and it refers to the fertilization and formation of a new cell.
This microscopic new cell is like computer software — it holds the genetic information from the parents. It has 46 chromosome copies in total.
Each and every one of these chromosomes has a role. Some genes determine sex, others eye and hair color, personality traits, and so on. All of the things that make us unique are already locked and docked this early on.
Each set of genes is individualized. This means that your first born might inherit your golden locks, but your second baby may appear more like your partner. Or they could be a mix of you both!
But let’s go a bit deeper into the world of genes.
1. The Power of Genes
Our genes are the most dominant factor when it comes to determining how our babies will look. But just to give you an idea of all the possible combinations, think about this:
Experts believe that one human has around 100,000 genes in their 46 chromosomes. This means that when two individuals get together, they have the potential of producing 64 trillion babies with different combinations of traits, although — thankfully — it’s not possible to have that many children (2)!
But it does mean every one of your offspring is likely to look completely different!
Your baby’s DNA comes in packages of alleles. These are either “dominant” or “recessive”. For hair color, the dominant alleles produce darker shades, whereas the recessive ones create lighter tones (3).
People who thought their babies would have dark hair like their partner, are surprised to find they actually got their lighter locks!
In the past, research suggested that it was the dominant alleles that ruled, where hair color is concerned. However, it’s a bit more complicated than that.
You see, most of our traits are polygenic — meaning that many genes act together to create a unique individual.
So when it comes to hair color, our genetics can produce much more than red, blond, black or brown. There are different shades, for example, light brown and dark brown, or strawberry blonde.
The pigment is what gives color to our skin, eyes, and hair. The particular pigment found in our skin and hair is melanin, of which there are two types:
- Eumelanin: Brown and black tones.
- Pheomelanin: Red tones.
How much of each type your baby has, and how genetics have distributed them through the hair, will make up the shade.
Although many genes are responsible for producing and regulating melanin, researchers still know very little about this. The one we know most about is MC1R (4). This particular gene handles the instructions needed to create a protein called melanocortin 1 receptor.
The melanocortin 1 receptor is the control panel. This decides which type of pigment the melanocytes (melanin-producing cells) should provide.
When this receptor is activated, a chain of chemical reactions occur. These stimulate the melanocytes and thereby produce eumelanin, giving the hair darker tones.
If this receptor does not activate, the melanocytes produce pheomelanin instead. In this case, your baby may get strawberry blonde, auburn or red hair.
Sometimes, the receptor is blocked, forcing it only to produce pheomelanin. When this occurs, it generally results in fiery red hair.
The most interesting fact is that pigment can change over time.
Could My Baby’s Hair Color Change?
Yes! Although the amount and type of pigment are already locked into your baby’s DNA, it’s still developing. This may continue up until they are six or seven years old.
A child’s hair color can change dramatically over several years. This is because the pigment, its density, and distribution are still changing and “settling” in.
Another interesting study revealed that people of European descent are particularly prone to hair color change. Scientists are not exactly sure as to why and how. But they believe it has to do with hormonal changes, activating the melanin in the hair follicles (5).
The example focused on blond-haired children. Here, most of them grew to have darker locks when they reached teenage years or entered puberty.
Can We Predict Baby’s Hair Color?
Well, we can try to predict it, but our new arrivals tend to surprise us!
Although there are trillions of possible combinations, the chances your baby will have something completely different are small.
Look at it this way. If both you and your partner have brown hair, it’s likely your little one will have the same. But if one of you has a little darker hair or more eumelanin, then your baby might have darker locks (6).
The same goes for blond and red colors. For a long time, researchers thought that red was recessive and blond was dominant. However, now we know that it’s possible to be a redhead. The red hues are simply hidden beneath a light-brown tone.
Of course, we also have to consider our family’s history of hair color. If your mom or dad, or even a grandparent, had red hair, your baby could potentially turn out to be a redhead. This may take some time to show, since the pigment is waiting to be activated.
Unique Hair Color
If you’ve ever searched the web for “unique baby hair color,” the chances are that you came across some pretty wild results. There are some conditions, caused by what doctors call loss of function, that cause variations in color.
Poliosis or “white forelock” is a condition where a particular spot of hair is completely white (7).
When looking closer at this phenomenon, doctors came to the conclusion that the hair follicles in that spot lack melanin. The rest of the hair, however, is a natural color, generally brown or black. This makes for a very distinctive appearance.
Generally, poliosis occurs when several genetic syndromes take place at the same time. These include tuberous sclerosis, piebaldism, and Waardenburg syndrome.
However, experts have also concluded that it can occur due to a series of acquired conditions. These include inflammatory illnesses, medications, or benign and malignant melanocytic neoplasm entities (skin tumors).
Poliosis can also affect other parts of the body. Some babies have it in their eyebrows or eyelashes. Although it may sound serious, most people with it are perfectly healthy.
Albinism is a genetic condition that results in the absence of melanin in the hair, skin, and eyes. People who have it are often characterized by having very fair skin and white hair. However, there are different variations.
The condition is very common, especially in other parts of the world, where as many as one in 3,000 children are born with it. In the U.S., it affects about one in 18,000 to 20,000 people (8).
Albinism is not a condition your baby can acquire after birth, since it occurs due to a mutation in the genes. The chances that your baby will have it are very slim.
Generally, for a baby to be born with albinism, both the mother and father must carry the mutated gene. However, further studies revealed that there is another variation where the mom is the carrier. This type usually only affects boys.
Albinism is not a life-threatening condition, but it can cause poor vision. Fortunately, for the most part, this can be corrected.
Babies and children with albinism should be well protected from the sun at all times. Because their skin lacks pigmentation, they are extra sensitive and may easily become sunburnt. Applying sunblock and dressing them in opaque clothing, including hats and loose shirts, is essential.
It’s not uncommon for some parents to worry about whether or not they will have a baby with albinism. If you are concerned, you can discuss this with your doctor.
There is no absolute way of telling, since DNA samples vary, even for the same type of albinism. But you might be able to find out if there’s a slim chance.
Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow
Wondering which hair color your baby will have is a normal part of every pregnancy. Maybe you’re hoping for a blond, or perhaps you wish that your redhead genes will come through for another generation. I know I couldn’t stop thinking about it!
But there are a lot of genes at play when it comes to pigmentation, and there’s no way to tell for sure.