Unraveling the Mystery of Vernix Caseosa - US National Library of Medicine
Making the Case for the Benefits of Vernix Caseosa - Science and Sensibility
You can thank mainstream, Hollywood movies for having most people think that babies are born clean and shiny. After all, who would want to see a sweet little newborn covered in blood, vernix and sometimes meconium. That wouldn't be glamourous now, would it?
The truth of the matter is that babies are born covered in many substances, one of those being vernix. Technically known as "vernix casoesa", vernix is a waxy, cheese-like substance often found coating the skin of a newborn. It is produced during the third trimester and it provides a barrier for baby while they're living in a watery environment. It consists of 81% water, 9% lipid and 10% proteins.
In my experience, most hospitals and even at some home births, babies are vigorously wiped down as they are delivered to mom's chest, sometimes to stimulate breathing but for the most part because vernix is viewed as messy. According to the World Health Organization, this practice of wiping needs to change as vernix is now being recognized for it's many functions in childbirth and in to the early days of infancy.
This creamy coating plays an essential role in keeping baby healthy in-utero and in the first hours and days of their life.
VERNIX ACTS AS A NATURAL MOISTURIZER:
No need to spend twenty bucks on a tube of 98% naturally derived Burts Bees Baby Moisturizer. Instead, let nature take it's course by rubbing 100% naturally derived vernix in to your baby's skin.
THERMAL REGULATION AT BIRTH:
It gets my blood boiling when I see a baby wiped down right after birth and then minutes later wrapped in warm towels and a hat put on because "baby is feeling a little cool". The hydrophobic layer of vernix should be left alone after birth and allowed to separate naturally. Retaining the vernix has shown considerable reduction in the number of cases of subnormal temperature. Ditch the hat and the towels and instead leave the vernix in place and have baby snuggled skin to skin with mom.
Vernix forms a physical barrier to the passage of bacteria as it contains antimicrobial proteins. The antimicrobial property of vernix may also act to facilitate colonization of normal flora following birth and to block colonization of unwanted microbes or pathogens such as group B. Strep, K. pneumoiae, L. monocytogenes and E. coli. Leave vernix on to increase your baby's chance at a healthy immunity!
Vernix is known to have antioxidant properties including Vitamin E and melanin. These antioxidant properties may help in coping with the high oxidative stress that birth brings with it.
WOUND HEALING PROPERTIES:
In experiments performed using human skin soiled with carbon particles, vernix had comparable efficacy to standard commercial skin cleansers. Unlike commercial soaps, it is capable of providing physiologically relevant lipids to the skin surface with additional moisturization, antioxidation and infection control, all so important for skin surface integrity.
I would encourage you to view vernix as a normal part of childbirth, not something that is messy or dirty. Leave it on as long as possible to increase baby's best chance to a good start in life.