When your baby is born, he might be covered with a thick, white, cheese-like layer called vernix caseosa. This substance might look unsightly, but it has several benefits for your little one. Here’s what you need to know about vernix on your newborn.
What is Vernix?
People are the only animals whose newborns are coated in vernix. The waxy substance comes from the sebaceous glands, which will be responsible for skin oils as your little one grows. It also contains shed skin cells.
Vernix first appears around the 19th week of gestation. Some of your baby’s vernix will dissolve into the amniotic fluid starting after 34 weeks; doctors will deal with the remaining vernix in the birthing room.
What Does Vernix Look Like?
Vernix typically appears in clumps on your newborn’s skin. It usually has a thick, waxy texture and creamy white color. But if it has a yellowish brown or green tinge instead, that's a good indicator that baby already passed meconium (the first poop).
Vernix Benefits: What Does It Do?
In the womb, vernix helps protect your newborn’s delicate skin from the acidic quality of the amniotic fluid. It hydrates her skin, insulates her body, and maintains a proper—and comfortable—temperature in utero. Vernix also does double duty as a lubricant, helping your baby slide out of the birth canal a bit easier, says Laura Riley, M.D, an OB-GYN in New York City.
Research has linked leftover vernix caseosa to the intoxicating “new baby smell” associated with infants. This smell triggers sensations of love and pleasure in new mothers.
What's more, vernix muffles sound for fetus: Although he can start to hear your voice by about week 25, his ears are covered with sound-shielding vernix.
Do All Babies Have Vernix?
If your baby is overdue, the vernix may be scant or missing entirely. The reason: It was likely already absorbed in the amniotic fluid. Babies without vernix might have drier skin than others.
How Long Does Vernix Stay on Baby?
Don't be so quick to wipe vernix off your newborn's skin, advises Ari Brown, M.D., founder of 411 Pediatrics and the author of Expecting 411, Baby 411, and Toddler 411. Research shows that removing vernix is not necessary for hygienic reasons, and leaving it may help stave off bacterial infections and heal wounds. The World Health Organization advises delaying baby's first bath for at least 6 hours, although 24 hours is ideal. (The exception: Wash vernix off right away if Baby has meconium staining, or if the mother has HIV or hepatitis.)
Once the vernix is washed away, your baby’s skin may dry out and peel—mostly on the feet and hands. Leave the flakes alone; they’ll usually disappear on their own within a couple of weeks.
Keep in mind that vernix likes to hide in skin folds for several days or even weeks after delivery. If you discover it, gently wipe it away or simply leave it.