What’s That White, Sticky Substance On My Baby?



Image Courtesy: Mama Natural

Your bundle of joy is finally born and you are all ready for the first cuddle. But grossed out at the white, waxy, cheesy substance coating the baby’s skin? What is that? It’s called the Vernix.

It is not appealing at all, which is why most hospitals and birth centers are more than eager to wash them away. However, don’t let them. There are multiple benefits of that and it is best to leave it in or rub it in.

Vernix – An Introduction

On your 27th week of your pregnancy, the unborn baby gets covered with vernix. By the 3rd semester, it is complete, but unlike the skin cells, this substance is more mobile and fluid. It is also more permeable in nature which allows water and smaller molecules to pass to the baby.

Designed to protect the delicate skin of the baby from amniotic fluid, the vernix mainly constitutes of water. Scientists have found multiple beneficial components in the vernix. They have identified amino acids, lipids, proteins, anti-bacterial and anti-microbial components including the following:

  1. Squalene
  2. Wax and sterol esters
  3. Ceramides
  4. Cholesterol
  5. Triglycerides
  6. Phospholipids
  7. Amino acids, asparagine and glutamine

And the best part, only humans produce it.

Protected From Germs

The main objective of vernix is to protect the infant from unwanted pathogens, both in the womb and even out of it. The mucous plug and amniotic sac is there, true, but the vernix provides the last line of defence. In addition to that, it is a skin cleanser and antioxidant. It also protects the baby while it goes through the birth canal. This means that baby only picks up the good bacteria and avoids overgrowth of bad bacteria found in mother’s birth canal. (like E. coli, Group B strep, Listeria Monocytogenes, etc.) If allowed to grow on the baby, these pathogens can cause diarrhea, meningitis and pneumonia.

Gives Warmth

Genevieve of MamaNatural1 said that most hospitals would put the baby under special lights if their body temperature is too low. (Scientists have infact found that the mother’s chest is the best place to regulate the baby’s body temperature than those fancy equipment). But vernix, helps in insulating the baby.

When it is washed away immediately, it results in significant heat loss. There are definitely debates going around this, however, it is one of the factors that keeps baby warm.

Why Some Babies Have It And Some Don’t?

Some babies are covered with thick vernix and some are born with thinner vernix which is visible only in the creases of the skin. Usually, the babies born via C-section has more vernix, as it hasn’t been removed during delivery through the birth canal. Also, babies born after 27 weeks but earlier than 40th week, also retains more vernix. Babies born earlier than 27 weeks or full term babies have lesser vernix.

Connection Between The Vernix And Breastmilk

Genevieve says that the immune proteins found in the vernix is similar to those found in breastmilk. When the baby reaches full term, some of the vernix starts shedding in the amniotic fluid which the baby is breathing. This peptide rich concoction reaches the baby’s lungs and digestive track and prepares the baby for the similar peptides found in breastmilk. The vernix helps in prepping the baby to consume the nourishing breast milk.

That’s Not All

The vernix in the womb

  1. Prevents loss of electrolytes and fluids
  2. Protects the baby skin from amniotic fluid
  3. Anti-microbial cover
  4. Protective layer that facilitates skin growth

It doesn’t cease to protect even when outside of the womb

  1. The skin pH levels are decreased helping in the formation of protective acid mantle
  2. Protects from pathogens
  3. Keeps skin soft and supple
  4. Love that sweet smell of new born baby – Vernix is the reason

Why Do Birth Centers Remove It Immediately Then?

Most of the nurses would rub off the vernix from the baby, or, immediately after the baby had some skin-to-skin bonding time. This is because the old school nurses were told that vernix is a biohazard and needs to be rubbed off the baby as soon as possible.

Additionally, washing and drying the newborn was thought to stimulate the breathing process in baby. Most of the American hospitals have long done away with these practices especially after institutions like WHO and National Association of Neonatal Nursing recommended on leaving the vernix alone. If necessary, blood, amniotic fluid and other vaginal secretions can be wiped off from the baby without disturbing the vernix at all.

Its Also Beneficial For Moms

Not only is it awesome for the baby, but its also good for the mothers, mainly because you can count on its antimicrobial nature to protect you from infection in the vaginal canal. Furthermore, it also has superior wound healing properties making perineal tears heal faster.

Will Bathing Remove The Protective Layer?

Even if 80% of vernix is water, it is actually hydrophobic barrier so it doesn’t wash off easily. A lot of scrubbing is involved if the birth alone doesn’t remove most of it.

Rubbing Vernix In

Its natural and good (for both the baby and the mom) to have some skin-on-skin bonding. This is the perfect time for the new mothers to gently rub the vernix in. Don’t worry, it would rub in just like body butter, so you are not hurting the baby at all.

So, When Would I Give My Baby His/Her First Bath?

Usually the vernix gets absorbed within the first day, so anytime after 24 hours is a good time for the baby to receive a bath. However, vernix doesn’t absorb fully until 5 or 6 days, so you can wait till that time. Meanwhile, you can gently wipe off any spit up, baby poo, and other messes.

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CureJoy Editorial

The CureJoy Editorial team digs up credible information from multiple sources, both academic and experiential, to stitch a holistic health perspective on topics that pique our readers' interest.

CureJoy Editorial

The CureJoy Editorial team digs up credible information from multiple sources, both academic and experiential, to stitch a holistic health perspective on topics that pique our readers' interest.