Vernix caseosa (sometimes just called the vernix) is a coating that develops and covers baby while they are in the womb.
It is made up of fats, proteins, and skin cells.
It is white and looks a little like cheese! – and its name comes from these characteristics. (“Vernix” comes from a Latin word meaning “varnish,” and “caseosa” comes from a Latin word meaning “cheesy” or “cheese-like.”)
The main reason why babies have vernix caseosa is to keep their skin from wrinkling while they’re in the womb.
If they didn’t have vernix caseosa, the constant exposure to amniotic fluid would wrinkle or chap their skin, kind of like how our own skin gets wrinkled after bathing or swimming.
Vernix caseosa starts to appear around the 20th week of pregnancy. It keeps thickening until around week 34, when it starts to shed into the amniotic fluid. By week 40, most of the vernix has vanished.
So, if baby is born very close to their due date, they’ll probably have just a bit of vernix. If they’re born a few weeks ‘early’, they’ll usually have a lot more. And if baby is born ‘late’, the vernix might already be gone.
Although vernix caseosa’s main purpose is to protect baby’s skin while they’re in the womb, it also has several other benefits for baby – before, during, and after birth:
*Lubricates baby, so they pass through the birth canal with less friction.
*Acts as a natural moisturiser, both before and after birth.
*Protects a newborn from infections shortly after birth
*Helps baby regulate their body temperature once they’ve left the womb.
Although you might see the vernix and think that baby needs a bath, don’t be tempted to have it cleaned off right away. Instead, it’s best to wait at least a day or more before baby gets their first sponge bath, so baby can benefit from the vernix for a longer period.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO) recommendation, “Bathing should be delayed until 24 hours after birth. If this is not possible due to cultural reasons, bathing should be delayed for at least six hours.”
Instead, let baby’s skin absorb the vernix on its own, like you would with any moisturizer (after all, the vernix is nature’s moisturizing lotion!)
- Baby’s skin will usually absorb the vernix between 24 and 48 hours after birth.
- You can also help the process by gently rubbing the vernix into baby’s skin over those two days, like you would with any moisturizer.
An added bonus of not bathing baby immediately is that baby and mother can begin skin-to-skin contact right away, and enjoy more bonding time in the crucial first hours after baby is born.
As for when exactly to time the bath, after those first 24 hours? That’s up to you, as there’s no recommendation on the latest time the first bath should happen but there is definitely no rush.
Keep in mind that most (if not all) of the vernix should be gone within a couple of days. No need to rush – choose what’s best for you and your little one.