Vernix caseosa and its many benefits: Must-know information for parents
From protecting your baby's skin while in your womb, to preparing his gut for breastfeeding and so much more... the benefits of vernix caseosa are truly remarkable...
If you are currently pregnant for the first time, then this article will help you prepare for your newborn’s appearance, just like our other articles about newborns, on acne, dry skin, umbilical cord stump care and lanugo.
And whether you are a first-time mum or not, you’ll also learn about some really interesting information about vernix caseosa (vernix) and its very important role in relation to your baby’s health — both in the womb and out.
What is vernix and when does it develop?
Consisting mainly of sebum, dead skin cells and shed lanugo hair, the term vernix caseosa is derived from the Latin words vernix (varnish) and caseosa (cheesy).
And this is also exactly what vernix looks like: a thick, white and waxy cheese-like substance that coats your baby’s skin while in-utero, and is also often seen at birth on your baby’s body. According to scientists, it is unique to humans.
Vernix starts forming on your baby’s skin while you are around 20 weeks pregnant. Your baby’s body will start absorbing the vernix closer to the final months of pregnancy. However, some babies — especially if they are premature or born a few weeks early — may still have a good coating of it at birth.
The many benefits of vernix
The main purpose of vernix –with its waxy, waterproof properties — is to protect your baby’s skin from the effect of months of being submerged in amniotic fluid in your womb.
If not for vernix, your baby’s skin would be quite wrinkled-up and dry at birth, much like your skin looks like when submerged in water for a long time.
2. Easy passage
The slippery, waxy nature of vernix helps your baby slip through your cervix and birth canal more easily.
3. Anti-microbial properties
Scientists believe that vernix has antimicrobial properties and helps protect the baby from infections.
According to childbirth educator Kimelin Hull, vernix contains antimicrobial peptides (these make proteins) “which are biologically active against several common bacteria and fungal agents.” Some of these include E. coli, Group B Strep, Klebsiella pneumonia and Candida albicans. These microbes can be responsible for severe illnesses such as diarrhea, meningitis and pneumonia in a newborn.
Hull explains that according to a study she read, vernix “acts as a host defense mechanism, providing a barrier-type protection from the above-listed agents while in utero.” In other words, it helps prepare your baby’s body tackle nasty bugs from the moment he is born.
This natural protection is even more powerful when the properties of vernix and amniotic fluid are combined, as the latter is also believed to have powerful protective properties.
Vernix also has antioxidant properties due to the vitamin E and melanin contained in it.
4. Preparation for breastfeeding and digestion
As your baby’s vernix starts to detach from his skin towards the last few weeks of pregnancy, along with amniotic fluid, it is consumed by your baby as he “practices” swallowing and breathing in the womb.
The peptides in this mixture are believed to be similar to those found in breastmilk. So as this antimicrobial peptide-rich mixture enters your baby’s lungs and digestive tract, Hull postulates that it prepares your baby’s gastrointestinal tract for receiving breastmilk soon after birth.
Moreover, it “[helps your baby] prepare for the process of establishing normal flora within the gut (and perhaps digestion processes, themselves) and preps the immune system for an important, pending transition.”
Also, research has discovered that the antimicrobial properties of vernix (and amniotic fluid) are similar to those in breastmilk.
5. Natural moisturisation
Traditionally, all traces of vernix and amniotic fluid are washed off a newborn baby before he is handed over to his mother for that first cuddle and breastfeed.
However now, new mums are being encouraged to rub the creamy, fatty vernix into their baby’s skin at birth rather than washing or wiping it off. Even the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends leaving vernix on the skin surface after birth
Vernix is an incredible natural moisturiser loaded with benefits to your baby’s skin and immune system. So by gently rubbing it in to your baby’s skin after birth, you’re helping to prevent skin dryness and flakiness in your newborn.
The vernix ‘moisturiser’ also provides your little one with an antibacterial barrier as it were, due to its remarkable “natural antibiotic” properties as discussed previously.
Read this article for more on why more and more mums are delaying their baby’s first bath.
6. Helps with bonding
According to lactation consultant Anne Smith (IBCLC), a little known factor about vernix is its smell. It has a distinctive sweet smell that is unique to each baby and only lasts a short time.
When mummy breathes in this special scent, the hormone oxytocin is released, which helps her relax and bond with her little one.
We hope you have found this article useful. If you are currently pregnant, do consider requesting that your baby’s vernix is left on his/her body after birth rather than having it wiped off.
Share with us in a comment below: How long did you let your baby stay ‘dirty’ after birth?