I'll never forget the first time I saw Mocha Girl One (HmG). She was an emergency c-section, and had to spend several days in NICU. She was born four days past her estimated due date and looked huge in her incubator. I imagined her to be especially delicate and feminine. I couldn't wait to frill her up, and more importantly to do her hair! The only reason she wasn't sporting a barrette the day we took her home from the hospital, was because the one I brought to match her lacey outfit, slid right out.
Mocha Girl One's baby hair was silky straight and fine. As the weeks rolled by, it became wavier until she had a lovely curly fro. I washed it all the time. I brushed it several times a day. I tried snap clips, and moved to velcro barrets when the clips slid out. I bought a different head band for every outfit. Meanwhile her curls continued to wind tighter and tighter.
I kept everything in a pretty box, dubbed the hair bin. I was really frustrated at not being able to give Mocha Girl One a real style, until I discovered the rubber band. Rubber bands came in all sizes and colors. Rubber bands gripped Mocha Girl One's hair and it stayed in place. Rubber bands held every stray strand captive and her hair looked fresh all day. I liked a nice smooth look, which meant I was winding the bands around her hair tightly. She had little bumps in some areas, but I'd seen those before on my own head, and thought nothing of it. When Mocha Girl One's hair began to break in various areas, I was really perplexed at the cause. I never imagined I was pulling my daughter's hair too tight. I got compliments about her styles wherever I went, and imagined I was doing a fabulous job with grooming.
Mocha Girl One's hair became so patchy that I had to give her a trim around her second birthday to even things up. Prior to the trim, some braids were as much as three inches shorter than others. I cried as I trimmed her hair. I bought countless products, searching everywhere for a solution, while watching her hair intently for improvements. For some reason, my problems with her hair felt like a personal failure. It's amazing how vested we can be in our daughters' appearance.
I made some changes and Mocha Girl One's hair grew back stronger. I continued to make mistakes, but nappy hair can be resilient. It thrived anyway. I'm thankful for the experiences I had with her, because it helped me to do better for her sisters in their turn.
Looking back, I wish someone had told me that first day in NICU, "Congratulations on the birth of your baby girl. Relax.....you've got plenty of time."
Consider the following suggestions:
1. Baby shampoos may contain harsh and drying detergents. Read the label carefully and avoid anything containing sodium laurate sulfate (SLS). Try a mild natural soap like liquid castile soap. Moisturize by spritzing with water. Add a light oil, like 100% pure unrefined coconut oil. Jojoba Oil is also a good choice. I've read it's the closest oil to the natural sebum our scalps produce. If your baby's curl pattern is still very loose, you may not need an oil, because her natural sebum will do an effective job of keeping her strands moist.
Update 4/2011: I used Trader Joe's Liquid Castille Soap which is labeled for safe use as a shampoo. I can't endorse any other formulation because I've never tried it. For example some people love Bronner's brand, others say it is not ph balanced for hair and may be damaging. At this time, Trader Joe's Castille Soap is discontinued. I don't know why. I recommend trying a moisturizing sulfate free shampoo. Even Walmart has at least one to offer these days. I've also had success with African Black Soap.
2. If you don't oil your baby's scalp and hair you may not need to use shampoo every time. Plain water will easily rinse away dried sweat and spit up.
3. If you use oil to loosen cradle cap, be sure to wash it away with a mild shampoo. Oils may clog a baby's delicate pores.
4. Be patient with styling. Use accessories proportionate to your baby's hair length and head size. Make sure you leave slack at the roots. Never pull the hair tight. It may be pretty, but come right out later.
5. Watch out for little bumps on the scalp. This is a sign the baby's hair has been pulled too tightly. These bumps may become filled with puss, indicating an infection.
6. If you can, please leave the baby's hair alone as much as possible. Your frequent styling and grooming sessions are coming soon. Enjoy these care free days.
7. If you must dress her hair, try headbands, but make sure they aren't too tight around her head. Use one or two strategically placed barrettes instead of a head full.
8. Be careful with rubber bands. I continued to use rubber bands safely for years. I was careful not to wind them tight. I carefully cut them out of the hair during take down.
Our baby girls have few ways to communicate their discomfort. If a style isn't killing them they may not cry, but it may still be painfully uncomfortable. Even as they get older they may not always communicate their discomfort well. They can get headaches from tight pony tails and poorly fit head bands just like we do. I cringe at the thought of a little baby sleeping on a head full of hard plastic barrettes. I confess to being the worst offender of this in the past, but I've learned my lesson. Mocha Girl Four (age 4 months) has yet to wear a barrette.
In the worse case, a baby's hair may not tolerate the stress and break off, as I experienced with Mocha Girl One. It's fun to dress our daughters up. As we fuss over them, let's try to remain mindful of their tender immature strands.