What Color Hair Will My Baby Have?
Since the day you found out you were expecting, you’ve probably been dreaming about what your baby might look like. Will they have your eyes? Your partner’s curls?
Only time will tell. With hair color, the science isn’t very straightforward.
Here’s some information about the basic genetics and other factors that determine if your baby will be blonde, brunette, redhead, or some shade in between.
When Hair Color Is Determined
Here’s a quick pop quiz. True or false: Your baby’s hair color is set from conception.
When the sperm meets the egg and develops into a zygote, it typically gains 46 chromosomes. That’s 23 from both the mother and father. All of your baby’s genetic traits — hair color, eye color, sex, etc. — are already locked in at this early stage.
What’s even more interesting is that each set of chromosomes that parents pass to their children is entirely unique. Some children may look more like their mothers, while others look more like their fathers. Others will look like a mix, from getting a different combination of chromosomes.
How exactly do genes interact to create hair color? Each of your baby’s genes are made up of alleles. You might remember the terms “dominant” and “recessive” from grade school science class. Dominant alleles are associated with dark hair, while recessive alleles are linked to fair shades.
When the genes meet, the resulting expression is your baby’s unique phenotype, or physical trait. People used to think that if one parent had blonde hair and the other had brown hair, for example, the recessive (blonde) would lose out and the dominant (brown) would win.
The science makes sense, but according to the Tech Museum of Innovation, most of what we know about hair color is still in the theory stage.
It turns out, there are many different shades of brown. Brown-ebony is nearly black. Brown-almond is somewhere in the middle. Brown-vanilla is basically blonde. Most of what you’ll read about genetics presents hair color as either dominant or recessive. But it’s just not that simple.
Since multiple alleles are at play, there’s a full spectrum of hair color possibilities.
How much and what type of pigment is in a person’s hair and how it’s distributed helps make up the general shade.
Even more interesting is that the amount of pigment in a person’s hair, its density, and its distribution can change and evolve over time.
There are two pigments found in human hair:
- Eumelanin is responsible for brown/black tones.
- Pheomelanin is responsible for red tones.
Baby Hair vs. Adult Hair
If you’ve flipped through old baby pictures of yourself, you may have noticed that you had lighter or darker hair as a baby. It may have changed in your toddler and preschool years, too. This situation goes back to the pigmentation in the hair.
A study published in Forensic Science Communications recorded the hair color of white, middle-European children in Prague. They uncovered that many of the children, both boys and girls, had darker hair in the first half year of life. From 9 months through age 2 1/2, the color trend lightened. After age 3, hair color became progressively darker until age 5.
This just means that your baby’s hair may change shades a few times after birth before settling on a more permanent color.
Babies born with albinism may have little or no pigmentation in their hair, skin, and eyes. This disorder is caused by a gene mutation. There are several different types of albinism that affect people in different ways. Many are born with white or light hair, but a range of colors is also possible.
This condition can cause vision problems and sun sensitivity. Though some children are born with very light blonde hair, children with albinism will typically have white eyelashes and eyebrows.
Albinism is an inherited condition that happens when both parents pass along the mutation. If you are concerned about this condition, you may want to speak with your doctor or a genetic counselor. You can share your family’s medical history and ask any other questions you have about the disorder.
So, what color hair will your baby have? The answer to this question isn’t so simple. Like all physical traits, your baby’s hair color is already determined and coded in their DNA. But it will take some time to fully develop into the exact shade it will be.
Eye Color Genetics
Parents expecting a new baby usually wonder what their baby will look like. One common question is what color their baby's eyes will be. But although eye color is determined by genetics, it takes a year for a child's permanent eye color to develop.
It's normal for parents to wonder why their bouncing blue-eyed baby is sporting hazel peepers as a toddler. It's because a baby's eye color will change during the first year of life, as the eye takes on its permanent color.
Understanding how eyes get their color and the role genetics play can take some of the mystery out of this phenomenon. And while eye color is mostly just a physical characteristic, in some cases, it can be a sign that the baby has a health issue.
Scientists once believed eye color was determined by a single gene, but advances in genetic research and genomic mapping have revealed that more than a dozen genes influence eye color.
This article will discuss how genetics decides what color your baby's eyes will be.
How Eye Color Develops
The colored part of the eye is called the iris. What we see as eye color is really just a combination of pigments (colors) produced in a layer of the iris known as the stroma. There are three such pigments:
- Melanin is ayellow-brown pigment that also determines skin tone.
- Pheomelanin is ared-orange pigment responsible for red hair. It is mostly found in people with green and hazel eyes.
- Eumelanin is a black-brown pigment abundant in dark eyes. It determines how intense the color will be.
The combination of pigments, as well as how widely they're spread out and absorbed by the stroma, determine whether an eye looks brown, hazel, green, gray, blue, or a variation of those colors.
For example, brown eyes have a higher amount of melanin than green or hazel eyes. Blue eyes have very little pigment. They appear blue for the same reason the sky and water appear blue—by scattering light so that more blue light reflects back out.
When you don't have any melanin at all, you end up with the pale blue eyes of people with albinism.
A newborn's eyes typically are dark, and the color is often related to their skin tone. White babies tend to be born with blue or gray eyes. Black, Hispanic, and Asian babies commonly have brown or black eyes.
When a baby is born, pigment is not widely spread throughout the iris. During the first six months of life, more of the pigments are produced. By age 1, you usually have your permanent eye color.
Will the Color of My Baby's Eyes Change?
Genetics and Eye Color
Eye color is determined by multiple variations of genes that are in charge of the production and distribution of melanin, pheomelanin, and eumelanin. The main genes influencing eye color are called OCA2 and HERC2. Both are located on human chromosome
Each gene has two different versions (alleles). You inherit one from the mother and one from the father. If the two alleles of a specific gene are different (heterozygous), the trait that is dominant is expressed (shown). The trait that is hidden is called recessive.
If a trait is recessive, like blue eyes, it usually only appears when the alleles are the same (homozygous).
Brown eye color is a dominant trait and blue eye color is a recessive trait. Green eye color is a mix of both. Green is recessive to brown but dominant to blue.
Predicting Eye Color
Without knowing exactly which genes a baby will have, it's impossible to predict with total certainty what color their eyes will be. But there are ways to make fairly accurate predictions.
One of these is by using a simple grid chart called the Punnett square. You enter the genetic traits of one parent in the top rows of the grid. The other parent's genetic traits are entered in the far-left columns. Plotting the contribution each parent makes provides a better-than-average probability of what their child's eye color will be.
Determining each parent’s alleles can get a little complicated depending on the eye color. As a dominant trait, brown eyes can come from six different genetic combinations. They can also hide recessive (hidden) traits of green or blue eye color. To find any recessive traits, it's helpful to know the grandparents' eye colors.
For example, a blue-eyed parent whose entire family has blue eyes and a brown-eyed parent whose mother and father were brown- and blue-eyed has a 50/50 chance of having a blue-eyed or brown-eyed child.
|Probability of Eye Color|
|Parent 1||Parent 2||Blue||Green||Brown|
Scientists have begun to develop methods for predicting eye color. They use genetic tests that identify specific polymorphisms (versions of a gene) that can indicate how much melanin, pheomelanin, and eumelanin will be produced.
Eye Color and Health
A baby's eye color may also reveal congenital diseases (diseases you're born with) and other conditions. Babies whose eyes are different colors—known as heterochromia—may have Waardenburg syndrome.
This is a genetic condition that can cause hearing loss in one or both ears. People with Waardenburg syndrome may also be born with very pale eyes or one eye that is two colors.
Very pale blue eyes may be caused by ocular albinism. This is when there is absolutely no pigment in the iris.
As an X-linked recessive disorder, ocular albinism occurs almost exclusively in men. This is because men have one X and one Y sex chromosome. The gene for the condition is on the X chromosome. So, in men, the gene for the condition will be expressed even though it's recessive.
Women, on the other hand, have two X sex chromosomes, so they may be carriers. They may have one gene for ocular albinism that is hidden by another normal gene. So they may not have the condition themselves but be able to pass on the gene for it.
Studies suggest fewer than one out of every 60, men has ocular albinism.
A baby also may be born missing all or part of their iris, a genetic condition known as aniridia. It's caused by mutations in the PAX6 gene. This gene plays an important role in forming tissues and organs during an embryo's development.
Your baby's eye color is determined by genetics. Eye color is a combination of pigments produced in the stroma. Brown eyes have more melanin than green or hazel eyes. Blue eyes have very little pigment.
The mix of genes inherited from each parent determines which pigments are produced and the baby's eye color. These genes can also lead to certain conditions.
A Word From Verywell
While understanding the genetics of eye color can help you understand how likely a baby will have a certain eye color, there are no certainties. If you have any questions about your child's eye color or overall eye health, bring your concerns to their pediatrician.
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American Academy of Pediatrics: HealthyChildren.org. Newborn eye color. Updated June 8,
U.S. National Library of Medicine: Genetics Home Library. Is eye color determined by genetics? Updated June 23,
Wollstein A, Walsh S, Liu F, et al. Novel quantitative pigmentation phenotyping enhances genetic association, epistasis, and prediction of human eye colour. Sci Rep. ; doi/srep
Grigore M, Avram A. Iris color classification scales - then and now. Rom J Ophthalmol. ;59(1)
American Academy of Ophthalmology. Your blue eyes aren't really blue. Updated November 30,
Hertle RW. Albinism: particular attention to the ocular motor system. Middle East Afr J Ophthalmol. ;20(3) doi/
Ludwig CA, Callaway NF, Fredrick DR, Blumenkranz MS, Moshfeghi DM. What colour are newborns’ eyes? Prevalence of iris colour in the Newborn Eye Screening Test (NEST) study. Acta Ophthalmol. ;94(5) doi/aos
Pośpiech E, Draus-Barini J, Kupiec T, Wojas-Pelc A, Branicki W. Gene-gene interactions contribute to eye colour variation in humans. J Hum Genet. ;56(6) doi/jhg
Donnelly MP, Paschou P, Grigorenko E, et al. A global view of the OCA2-HERC2 region and pigmentation. Hum Genet. ;(5) doi/sx
Edwards AW. Punnett's square. Stud Hist Philos Biol Biomed Sci. ;43(1) doi/j.shpsc
U.S. National Library of Medicine: Genetics Home Reference. Waardenburg syndrome. Updated June 23,
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What Color Hair Will My Baby Have? A Genetic Explanation
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What will your baby look like? Hair color and eye color are the most common things expecting parents wonder about. While there is no sure bet, you can make some good guesses with the right information.
More: Will My Baby Have Freckles?
To understand how hair color works, you will need to understand some basic genetics. During my time studying genetics at the University of California, Santa Cruz and teaching genetics in the San Francisco Unified School District, I have learned a great deal about genetic compositions and make-up can have an impact. Your genetic code consists of tens of thousands of directions that tell your body how to grow, called genes. Genes are stored inside chromosomes and determine everything from your blood type to your biological sex to your hair color.
For every gene, you have two alleles. One came from your mother and one from your father. Both alleles are stored in your chromosomes, but if they are different, only one shows up in your appearance.
For example, if you have one blue-eyed allele and one brown-eyed allele, you will have brown eyes. That is because the brown-eyed allele is dominant over the blue-eyed allele. Generally, darker colors are dominant over lighter colors. The non-dominant alleles are called recessive, and they only present when a person has two of them.
The gene code that you carry is called your genotype. The traits that you actually present are your phenotype. Parts of the genotype that do not show up in your appearance can still be passed along to your children.
Looking to learn more about your genetics and how they impact everything from your microbiome to your appearance and hormones? Our partners at Nebula Genomics can help you understand your genome, explore your ancestry, and learn about your inherited traits. Check out their offerings here.
How Genetics Affects Hair Color
Let’s apply this logic to hair color. We will use brown and blonde hair in our example and later discuss other common hair colors.
Brown hair is dominant over blonde hair. Children with two brown-haired alleles will present brown hair. Children with one brown-haired allele and one blonde-haired allele will present brown hair as well. Only those with two blonde-haired alleles will have blonde hair.
Now let’s take a look at how we can use genetics to guess your baby’s hair color. If you remember Punnet Squares from your biology classes in school, that is where we are going with this.
Two Blonde Parents Make a Blonde Baby
If both parents are blonde, they will certainly have a blonde child. Here, we know that both parents’ genotypes contain only blonde traits because that is the only way they could have blonde hair. A brown allele would have dominated, resulting in brown hair. If both parents carry only blonde alleles, they can only pass on blonde alleles, therefore, their child must be blonde.
Brunettes Can Give Birth To Blondes
If one parent is blonde and the other brunette, they might have a blonde child. This can only happen if the brunette parent carries the blonde allele. If he carries only brown alleles, he can only pass on brown alleles, and they’ll dominate causing his child to have brown hair.
Looking back at the grandparents (the brunette’s parents), if one is blonde, he surely carries the trait. If both are brunette, however, it is still possible that one or both carry the blonde allele and could have passed it on.
A baby born from a blonde/brunette pair where the brunette carries the recessive blonde trait has a 50/50 chance between the two colors. However, if the brunette does not carry the recessive blonde trait, the baby will have brown hair.
If both parents are brunette, they can only have a blonde child if they both carry the recessive blonde trait. But even if they do, the chance of giving birth to a blonde is just one in four.
What about Redheads?
One to two percent of humans have red or orange hair. The allele for red hair is neither dominant nor recessive. Red hair is an incomplete dominant. When a baby receives an allele for red hair, it will blend with its accompanying allele. A red-blonde genotype presents as strawberry blonde and a red-brown genotype presents as auburn.
For a more detailed explanation on red hair, check out: What Are The Chances My Baby Will Have Red Hair?
What about Black Hair?
Black hair is the most common hair color worldwide. Black hair is made from a subtype of the same pigment that makes brown and blonde. It is a dominant trait and less likely to blend with lighter pigments than brown hair. In other words, it’s more likely for a baby born to a brown-blonde pair to end up with light brown or dark blonde hair. But if one parent has black hair, it is more common to see a jet black-haired baby.
Shades and Pigmentation
In truth, the genetics of hair color is just a little more complicated than your basic biology class might claim. Hair gets its color from pigment, and the amount of pigment in the hair affects its exact shade. So we are not really looking at completely separate hair color genes, but rather differing amounts of the same kind of pigment: melanin.
Not only that but the amount of melanin present changes throughout life. A single person may have different color hair at different ages.
Two types of pigment give hair its color: eumelanin and pheomelanin.
Eumelanin makes hair brown or black, and the amount of eumelanin present determines how dark the hair is. Smaller amounts of eumelanin make a person’s hair blonde, while larger concentrations make it brown. A subtype of eumelanin makes hair black (interestingly, smaller concentrations of this subtype results in white hair).
Pheomelanin causes hair to look red or orange. All humans have some pheomelanin in their hair, but true redheads have little to no eumelanin. Mixes of eumelanin and pheomelanin lead to auburn or strawberry blonde hair.
Human hair color comes in a variety of shades depending on the particular mix and concentration of pigments. The Fischer-Saller scale, used in physical anthropology and medicine, identifies a variety of shades on the spectrum between light and dark, red and brown.
The categories identified on the Fischer-Saller scale range from very light (A-E), through light (F-L), light brown (M-O), brown (P-T), and finally to brown-black and black (U-Y).
A separate range specifies red and red-blonde (I-VI). The scale also identifies black, gray from age, white from age, and white from albinism.
Albinism is a condition in which an individual carries no pigmentation, or very little. Without any melanin, there is no color, so someone with albinism will have white or very light blonde hair. Some types of albinism affect only certain areas of the body, but most affect the hair, skin, and eyes.
Albinism is rare and passed genetically. It is a recessive trait, so both parents would need to carry the allele for it to present. Hair is not a problem so much as skin, which can burn easily without any pigmentation to protect it.
Hair Color Changes Throughout Life
Hair color is not set for life. A baby born with dark hair may change to having light brown on blonde hair during the first six months. Even then, babies and toddlers with blonde or red hair often develop brown hair as they age. It may darken slowly during early childhood, or it may change more abruptly during adolescence due to hormonal changes. From mid-infanthood on through childhood, the most common changes in hair color are caused by increased concentrations of eumelanin.
Later in life, melanin stops being produced and hair turns grey and white. The age at which graying starts is determined by a combination of genetics and environmental factors.
It Gets Even More Complicated
As mentioned, the concentrations of two pigments determine the hair’s exact shade. But there is so much more to it, and science has not even fully caught up. Zooming in on granules of pigment in human hair, biologists have discovered that they can be fine, coarse, or obscure, and they may appear streaked or clumped. Their density varied on different areas of the same person’s hair, with no apparent order or pattern. And beyond pigment concentration, the exact shade presented depended on many factors, including transparency and reflectivity.
So, can you predict what color your baby’s hair will be? You can definitely make an educated guess. Some couples will be able to rule out certain colors (for the most part), while others can be sure there’s a chance for more than one result. Nevertheless, hair color can change over time. Whether you give birth to a strawberry blonde or brown-black haired baby, you cannot be sure he will stay that way!
Now that you have an idea of what color hair baby will have, you might be curious about eye color? Find out what color eyes your baby will have based on genetics.
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Eyes brown baby hair blonde
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