Remember when Rachel gave birth to baby Emma in Friends? (I still love that show; thank goodness for reruns!)
That tiny little bundle was placed in her arms, a picture of perfection, and beautifully clean!
I guess that most of us know to expect a slightly stickier, gooier (but no less perfect!) little bundle in real life.
But what exactly is that stuff?
What is vernix?
Along with other lovelies that make up a newborn’s appearance, vernix is a waxy, white-coloured substance that coats the baby’s skin.
It forms during the third trimester and is around 80% water. It also includes a wide number of beneficial compounds including lipids, amino acids, proteins, antibacterial, and antimicrobial compounds.
But the doctor says…
Did you also notice how they whisked baby Emma away pretty much immediately after delivery?
Unfortunately, this part of the episode was a pretty accurate reflection of U.S. delivery suites. Baby is taken to be weighed, washed, and all the necessary checks performed.
In our germ-phobic society, it’s seen as a priority to get little one clean as soon as possible. However, this study points out that this is just plain silly since the vernix is antibacterial in itself!
If the medical profession is so swift to be rid of it, why should we not rub off the vernix straight away?
Why should you wait to bath your baby?
The list of benefits of vernix is long, starting even from when your baby is in the womb.
Labour and delivery benefits:
Meconium is the first poop your baby will pass, usually between 1 and 2 days after birth. On some occasions, this can happen in-utero or during delivery and may pose a risk to your baby.
Vernix plays an essential part in protecting your baby from this.
A smooth exit!
Vernix acts as a natural lubricant to aid delivery- a blessing for both mama and baby!
In the womb, your little one is surrounded by amniotic fluid. The waterproof nature of vernix creates a protective layer for their delicate skin, preventing wrinkling and chaffing.
The big wide world:
The benefits of this wonderful stuff continue even after your baby makes his way out into the world, which is why it’s so important not to rub it off!
Perhaps the most important factor of vernix is its germ-fighting ability.
Its antibacterial nature helps it to protect baby from a whole host of nasty bacteria, viruses, and fungi which can cause things like meningitis, diarrhea and pneumonia:
- Group B Strep
- Staph aureus
- Pseudomonas aeruginosa
- Candida albicans
- Listeria monocytogenes
- Serratia marcescens
- Klebsiella pneumonia
Magically- vernix also helps baby pick up good bacteria too!
You may know that babies are often placed under heat lamps pretty soon after they’re born.
This is because their bodies are not yet able to regulate their temperature effectively.
Removing vernix from the skin gets rid of a natural insulating layer which can cause heat loss to be far more rapid.
Money can’t buy moisturizer
Vernix is your baby’s natural moisturizer!
It has been found to have a higher water content than various barrier creams like petrolatum, aquaphor and eucerin.
If you still need convincing…
Still not heard enough? There are other indirect benefits of leaving on that vernix!
Skin to skin time
We all saw how hard it was for Rachel to have baby Emma whisked away so soon. I’m guessing that’s a pretty accurate portrayal too for how most moms feel to be separated from their newborn!
Obviously, there are some cases where it’s important for baby to be medically assessed immediately after birth.
However, in most situations, having skin to skin time with your baby is so precious and important.
Babycentre explains how important this time is to help form the mom-baby bond.
If you’re planning on breastfeeding, having skin to skin time is even more important.
Did you know that, if laid on the mother’s chest, many babies will naturally root towards the breast and begin to try and feed? You don’t want to interrupt this time for a bath that can wait!
Stress hormones low and blood sugar normal
Newborn babies only know mom. They have grown inside you for nine months; it’s no surprise that they want to be with your when they’re born!
When your baby is taken from you to be washed, he may feel upset or lost- where has mommy gone?!
This causes his body to release stress hormones and her heart rate and blood pressure may go up. His blood sugar may also lower temporarily.
Do all babies have it?
Your baby may have less vernix, or it can be almost entirely missing if they’re overdue.
My little boy (6 days overdue) arrived with barely a scrap on him! His skin was also a little dry as a result, a clear example of the moisturizing properties of vernix.
He was also a water birth baby! But since it takes quite a lot of rubbing to remove vernix, a water birth alone won’t wash it off. Baby has been swimming in amniotic fluid for 9 months after all!
Make your wishes clear.
If you do decide that you want the vernix leaving on your baby, make sure you make your decision clear to your doctor or midwife.
He’s your baby, and your wishes are important.
This is all just some nature-loving, alternative theory isn’t it?
No, it isn’t!
Science has proven the benefits of leaving vernix on the skin, and as a result, the World Health Organisation recommends this.
There are tons of studies which have all concluded what amazing stuff this white goo really is!
- The American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology
- The Department for Women and Health, Sweden
- The Skin Sciences Institute
So, when should I bathe my baby?
Once your child has had the benefits of his vernix, you can choose how long to delay his first bath.
In the UK, I was advised by the NHS to wait until the umbilical cord had fallen off before giving our little boy a bath, and just to top and tail wash him until then. Here’s a video that shows how to do it:
Even if you only delay by 24 to 48 hours, your baby will still have reaped the benefits of waiting.
So go on and embrace that sticky stuff!
It really does do wonders for your newborn!
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