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Vernix: Why You Should Rub It & Not Wash It Off 

By: Subodini Menon

When a baby is born, it is not just a cute little handful of joy. Along with the baby come some substances that can look unsightly and gross. But these gross substances are in place for the protection and assistance of the baby. One such substance is vernix or vernix caseosa.

Vernix caseosa is the creamy white or off white substance that is noticed on the baby's skin soon after it is born. It feels cheesy or waxy to touch. This is basically a protective layer that builds up through the months that the baby spends marinating in the fluids of the womb.

what is vernix

This layer can seem very repelling and traditionally, the nurses and the other hospital staff wipe it off or clean the baby's skin before handing the baby to you. Research shows that this layer should not be washed or cleaned away as it serves to protect the baby's sensitive skin from the new environment it is in after it is born.

If the vernix is left on the skin of the baby, it can offer a lot of benefits to the baby. Alternatively, the vernix is rubbed into the baby's skin like you would rub in a moisturizer. Doing this helps the baby's skin to absorb all the nutrients and benefits offered by the vernix.

Today, we shall talk more about vernix. We will learn about the various benefits that it offers to the baby. We will also see how the vernix is to be rubbed into the baby's skin in order to derive the most benefits. Read on to learn more.

what is vernix

The Properties Of Vernix

Vernix starts to accumulate on the baby's skin when the baby is of 20 weeks of gestational age. It is believed that the vernix acts to protect the baby's skin from being affected by the fluids around it. if you have stayed in a swimming pool for a long time, you will see that your skin becomes wrinkled and chapped. If fluids can do this to an adult's skin, you can imagine what it can do to a baby's tender skin. The presence of vernix helps prevent wrinkling and chapping of the baby's skin.

The uniqueness of vernix lies in the fact that while being water proof, it is permeable to nutrition and moisture. It is better in letting through essential nutrients and moisture when compared to the skin.

Did you know that every other animal is born without vernix? Vernix is a substance produced only by the human mothers and is seen only on the new born human babies.

what is vernix

What Is Vernix Made Up Of?

Vernix is made up of around 80 percent of water. Its other constituents are lipids, proteins, lipids and antimicrobial and antibacterial compounds. Other things seen in vernix are

  • Cholesterol
  • Wax and sterol esters
  • Squalene
  • Ceramides
  • Triglycerides
  • Asperagine
  • Glutamine
  • Phospholipids

Out of the proteins found in the vernix, 61 percent is only found in humans. Only humans are able to produce it in the world. It makes vernix much more unique.

what is vernix

The uses of vernix

The vernix is beneficial to the baby in a lot of different ways. Let us look at them one by one.

  • Vernix Fights Against Germs

There are many mechanisms in place to protect the baby from pathogens. The mother's immune system, the baby's still immature immune system, the amniotic sac, the mucus plug - all serve to protect the baby from unwanted germs. The vernix serves as the last line of defense against the pathogens.

There are many bacteria, viruses and fungi that vernix helps keep at bay. There are some germs whose presence is not dettered by the vernix but their over growth is prevented. Some of these germs are- E.coli, Staph aureus, Group B Strep, Candida albicans, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Listeria monocytegenes, Klebsiella pneumonia and serratia.

These can cause pneumonia, diarrhoea and meningitis in newborns.

  • Vernix Lets In Beneficial Bacteria

While protecting the baby from pathogens, the vernix also helps in the establishment of a healthy flora of the good bacteria and fungi. It plays an important role in the establishment of healthy bacterial population in the gut.

  • Vernix Protects From Meconium

Meconium is the first tarry and green poop that the baby excretes. The meconium contains everything that the baby has ingested in the womb during its stay in uterus. It also contains hair particles and dead skin. This meconium is usually passed when the baby is born and is outside the mother's body. But sometimes, the baby passes the meconium in the womb. This meconium can be very toxic to the baby. Vernix plays an important role in preventing the exposure to the meconium in the womb.

  • Vernix Helps The Development Of Skin

Vernix acts as a protective layer that helps the growth and development of the skin beneath it. The skin also matures enough to bear the outside air and temperature when the baby comes out with the help of vernix.

  • Vernix Acts As A Lubricant

It is not just the mother that has a hard time during child birth, the baby undergoes a lot of strain and pressure during birth too. Vernix makes the birth a little easier by providing lubrication to the baby's skin. The lubrication obtained from the vernix helps reduce the friction in the birth canal.

  • Helps The Bonding Between The Mother And The Baby

The vernix smells strongly of the mother to the baby even outside the womb. The smell of the vernix is also endearing to the mother. It helps comfort the baby and also helps the mother bond with the baby.

  • It Helps Moisturize The Baby's Skin

Once out in the world, the skin that has been drenched in fluids in the uterus, starts to dry up soon. The presence of vernix helps in keeping the baby's skin moisturized and hydrated.

  • Vernix Preps The Digestive System To Receive Breast Milk

The vernix contains similar immune proteins as that of those present in the breast milk. When in the uterus, some of the vernix is shed. This enters the digestive tract of the baby and the lungs of the baby. It familiarizes the digestive system to the immune proteins. This way, the digestive system is prepared for when the breast milk arrives.

  • Vernix Helps In Temperature Control

When babies are born, they take time to control their temperature. They are often placed in machines that help control the temperature. Placing newborns on the mother's chest also helps regulate the temperature. Vernix, on the other hand helps in retaining the temperature and prevents the loss of heat.

  • Vernix Helps In The Proper Development Of The Acid Mantle

All humans have a layer on the skin called the acid mantle. This layer helps maintain the pH of the skin. This in turn helps in protecting the skin from pathogens. Vernix helps the acid mantle develop effectively in the baby and also maintains the pH until the acid mantle is ready.

what is vernix

Do All Babies Have Vernix?

All babies accumulate vernix in the uterus. But not all babies have them on when they are born. Some may have a thick coating of vernix on them; others may have vernix only in their crevices. This completely depends on when the babies are born and how they are born.

  • The babies that are born through caesarian section tend to have more vernix on then when compared to the ones that were born naturally. Some of the vernix on the naturally born babies rub off while they are born.
  • Babies who are past 27 months of gestation but are born before the full term is completed have a thick coating of vernix.
  • Babies that are born before the 27 months and after the full gestation period tend to have very little vernix on them.
what is vernix

The Benefits Of Vernix For The Mother

The vernix is not just benefical to the baby but it helps the mother too.

  • Vernix helps in an easier birth by providing lubrication.
  • The antibacterial properties of the vernix provide protection against infection during child birth.
  • The vernix also has a good wound healing property. It helps the tears and wounds of child birth heal better and faster.
what is vernix

Why Do The Nurses Remove The Vernix?

The nurses are bound by the hospital policies that are outdated and are probably not familiar with the results of the new research. The nurses were taught that the vernix must be removed as soon as possible to prevent contamination from germs. It was considered a bio hazard.

The vernix also looks unhygienic and gross. So, before presenting the baby to its parent and the waiting relatives, the nurses wash the vernix off to make the baby more presentable and clean.

Washing and drying is considered essential to help start proper breathing and blood circulation.

Today, these practices are changing albeit slowly. Now we know that the amniotic fluid, genital fluids and excretion can be wiped off without washing the vernix. A simple massage can help the circulation and breathing. Soap is not used in many hospitals to wash the babies. Just some warm water is used instead. It does not dissolve the vernix.

what is vernix

How to help the vernix be absorbed into the baby's skin?

As soon as the baby is born, the baby can be given to the mother for a little skin to skin bonding. This is seen to be very essential for both the baby and the mother. During this time, the vernix can be gently rubbed or massaged into the baby's body. It is absorbed into the skin just like a body butter would be.

what is vernix

When would be the best time to give the baby a bath?

It takes around 6 to 7 days for the vernix to be completely absorbed by the skin. It would be best to wait until then to give your baby a bath. Use warm water or unscented wipes to clean poop, pee and spit up.

The vernix is absorbed the most in the first 24 hours. So, any time after the first 24 hours of birth is fine for the baby's first bath. Just make sure not to use any soap. Use some warm water instead.

Read more about: babies, parenting
Story first published: Tuesday, December 5, 2017, 10:36 [IST]
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