It’s common for newborns to enter the world covered in a thick, creamy-looking substance known as vernix caseosa. To protect her sensitive skin, the vernix covers your newborn’s skin or hides in their deep folds. The name is Latin- vernix means “varnish,” and caseosa means “cheesy.” It’s important to note that the protective film covers your baby in the womb during the last few months of pregnancy and gradually disappears as you near your due date.
So, if your baby is born pre-term, you can expect to see lots of it. And once babies are born, they are bathed shortly after, and their breathing and temperature are stabilized. Doctors usually remove the blood and amniotic fluid and bathe the baby to get rid of the vernix. However, leaving this substance may provide some health benefits, so maybe you should consider leaving it on for some time.
Read on to learn more about what vernix is, what role it plays, why some babies are born with the vernix still on, and the right time to bathe your baby if she’s born with it.
What Is Vernix?
Vernix caseosa, or vernix for short, is a white, cheesy-looking substance that covers and protects your baby’s skin while in the uterus. According to Very Well Health, the vernix starts to develop slowly throughout pregnancy and develops fully during the third trimester. The naturally occurring biofilm starts to cover your baby, especially during the second trimester. The sebaceous glands, known for oil production in the skin, start to produce the vernix at around 17 weeks of gestation. The vernix is made of 80% water, 10% lipids, and 9% proteins, with the proteins and lipids making it feel slightly greasy. And it also has enzymes and other immune proteins that contain antibacterial properties.
When you pour oil into water, the oil collects on the surface instead of mixing with the water. Water can’t move through lipids easily, so the vernix protects your baby’s delicate skin from pulling in excessive water from the amniotic fluid. That’s why your baby isn’t born with wrinkled skin as someone would look after a swim. The vernix maintains skin softness while protecting it from getting infected in the womb. And when it develops fully, it reaches maximum thickness. As you near your due date, it starts to thin, so if you deliver your baby close to your due date, there will be a bit of vernix on the skin. However, some babies, especially preemies, are born with a thicker layer of this protective coating still on the skin, while babies born after their due date either have a very thin layer or none remaining.
The Benefits Of The Vernix
The vernix acts as a protective layer for your newborn’s skin, helping shield his sensitive skin from chapping, getting hard, and abrasions, all of which can be caused by too much exposure to the amniotic fluid. But, the vernix is also beneficial during and after delivery.
The benefits of vernix during pregnancy:
Before your baby is born, here’s what the vernix does:
- Protect the baby from damaging substances like electrolytes and urea in the amniotic fluid.
- Helps baby develop healthy gut bacteria – According to Happiest Baby, your little fetus swallows bits of vernix daily, which helps him develop good gut bacteria and prevents infection.
- Helps prevent bad bacteria – Your newborn has a very weak immune system, making her more prone to illness, including skin infections. Vernix keeps their skin a bit more acidic, which helps delay bad bacteria from growing.
Benefits during delivery:
- Acts as a lubricant during delivery – For women who deliver vaginally, vernix acts as a protective biofilm and lubricant. It works as an antimicrobial cover, protecting against bacteria in the genital tract.
Benefits of vernix after delivery
- Helps with thermoregulation– It may take some time for a baby to control their own body temperatures outside the womb, so they’re heavily wrapped in blankets and carefully watched after delivery. Leaving the vernix on your newborn’s skin may help them regulate their body temperature faster. A study revealed that leaving the vernix unbothered lowered the risk of hypothermia and the need to use an incubator for warming.
- Protects newborns from infection – your newborn’s immune system is yet to develop, making her more likely to catch illnesses. The vernix protects your baby in several ways:
- It acts as a barrier because it prevents bacteria from passing through to the newborn’s skin right away. So, your baby adapts to their new environment, and their immune system gets time to improve.
- It’s a natural moisturizer that could help protect your baby’s skin from becoming dry. Its high water content helps seal moisture within the skin and lowers moisture loss.
- It contains antioxidant properties, such as melanin and vitamin E, which help hinder cell damage because of the free radicals.
- Delaying your newborn’s first bath may lower intense crying. A study revealed that delaying the first bath and leaving the vernix undisturbed was linked to lower intense crying in newborns.
- Increases satisfaction for new moms – According to research, delaying the first bath was linked to more satisfaction for new moms because it lets them have more skin-to-skin time with their newborns to increase mom and baby bonding. The same study revealed that delayed bathing and letting moms help in bathing their baby for the first time increased their bond and nursing rates.
Should You Delay Newborn’s First Bath?
Yes, definitely delay your baby’s first bath. According to What to Expect, most people preferred to wash their baby immediately after delivery. However, more and more hospitals are currently against that practice. It’s increasingly common for hospitals to delay your baby’s first bath, leaving the vernix on for a while longer. This also gives the parents more time for skin-to-skin contact in the first hours post-delivery.
But how long should you wait after delivery to bathe your baby? WHO advises parents to wait for at least 6 to 24 hours, but there’s no official advice on how many hours max you should wait before bathing your baby. If you’re unsure and need guidance, you can reach your pediatrician for more information. Whatever works for you, indicate it on your birth plan together with other critical decisions, so the nurse doesn’t accidentally wash your baby earlier. However, babies born in meconium-stained fluid, those born to moms with transmittable viral diseases such as hepatitis or HIV, and babies with chorioamnionitis need to be bathed immediately.
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