Vernix caseosa or vernix is a white waxy, creamy or cheesy substance coating the newborn’s skin. This has protective functions during fetal development and after delivery. Vernix is composed of sebum secretions of the sebaceous glands and the periderm cells (these cover the developing skin cells) that shed around the 21st week of gestation.
Extremely preterm babies with very low birth weight may not have vernix on their skin. Babies born between 32 to 37 (preterm) weeks of gestation may have more vernix than full-term babies.
Read this post to learn about the benefits and risks of leaving vernix caseosa on a baby’s skin after delivery.
Purpose Of The Vernix Caseosa
Babies can benefit from vernix caseosa beyond pregnancy. Even little vernix caseosa on a baby’s skin can be beneficial during and after delivery. These benefits could include the following (1).
- Antimicrobial properties of vernix caseosa help the baby avoid infections that they may contract through the skin during and after delivery
- Waterproof the fetal skin from the fluid in the womb
- Lubricate the birth canal to reduce friction during vaginal delivery
- Regulate body temperature of newborns
- Moisturize the skin and prevent dryness and cracking
- Enhance the healing of skin wounds, if any, at birth
- Provide the newborn’s skin with antioxidant properties
Besides these benefits, vernix also has certain clinical significance. It may help doctors diagnose uterine rupture, amniotic fluid embolism, and determine the exposure of drugs in pregnant women.
Vernix caseosa is a natural protector of a baby’s skin. Letting it be on the baby’s skin for a longer time, that is, delaying the first bath, may reduce the need for various protective skincare products, such as moisturizers and other protective creams for newborns.
How Long Should The Vernix Stay On A Baby’s Skin?
WHO recommends leaving the vernix intact on the skin after birth. The beneficial effects of vernix are only obtained if allowed to stay on the baby’s skin for a few hours after birth.
Recent evidence suggests that wiping off vernix for hygiene purposes, drying, or stimulating the respiratory effects may not be necessary for all babies.
Should You Delay Your Baby’s First Bath?
Delaying the first bath may help the baby reap all the benefits of vernix caseosa (2). There is no recommended time to give a bath to obtain complete benefits. However, delaying the first bath for a few hours could be beneficial.
Some mothers may not give baths to their baby for a few days to a week after birth. It is not necessary to delay bathing for several days. It is essential to remove amniotic fluid and blood from babies’ skin for hygiene purposes. You may ask the hospital staff to gently clean the baby, leaving some of the vernix on their skin. You may massage the vernix into the baby’s skin for a few days after birth.
Delaying the first bath may not be ideal for babies born with meconium (first stool) contaminated amniotic fluid or with the risk of contracting infections from the birth canal. You may discuss with the healthcare provider to know the best time and method to bathe your baby.
Risks of Leaving Vernix On A Baby’s Skin After Birth
Leaving vernix on a newborn’s skin may not cause any risk in most cases. Babies with meconium staining or a history of chorioamnionitis may have an increased risk of developing bacterial overgrowth if the vernix is left on the skin for several hours. In some cases, leaving vernix may increase the risk of contracting maternal infections, such as hepatitis and HIV.
Excess vernix on the baby’s skin may result in neonatal aspiration syndrome. In rare cases, vernix caseosa may lead to granuloma and peritonitis (heart infection) in babies born through cesarean sections (1). The risk may vary depending on the existing health conditions, so you may take the appropriate decision according to the risks and benefits of leaving vernix on the baby’s skin.
Vernix caseosa is a natural protector of a newborn’s skin. Immediate bathing is not necessary for all babies. If there are no contraindications to delay the first bath, you may wait several hours to let your baby benefit from the vernix. Discuss with your healthcare provider to know the risk and benefits of leaving the vernix caseosa on your baby’s skin for more time.
2. Delayed Bathing; International Childbirth Education Association (ICEA)