What to Know About Vernix on Your Baby

What to Know About Vernix on Your Baby

Have you heard about cheesy varnish, AKA vernix on your baby? Confused? Don’t worry! We’ve got the 411 on this unique fromage. 🧀
Vernix caseosa✨!

Sounds like a magic spell, right?

Turns out, it’s actually just the fancy name for the moisture-rich coating many babies are born with on their skin.

It may look and feel a little sticky and icky, but vernix on a baby is a good thing.

Let us tell you why!

In this article: 📝

  • What is vernix?
  • Why do some babies have no vernix?
  • Does vernix mean baby is early?
  • Should I leave the vernix on my baby’s skin?
  • Should I rub in the vernix?
  • How long does vernix stay on baby?
  • How to clean vernix off

What is vernix?

Vernix is a white cheesy-looking substance some babies have on their skin when they’re born.

It’s a Latin phrase that actually means “varnish of a cheesy nature.”

(Pregnancy is such a wild ride.

Bet you never thought it’d have you casually using Latin phrases on the regular! Turns out most of our anatomy is named after Latin words—even the word uterus is Latin for womb.)

Just like varnish protects wood, this vernix protects your baby’s delicate skin in the womb.

It acts as a waterproof barrier for your baby while they take that long bath in amniotic fluid.

Vernix is made up of water, lipids, and protein, and has antibacterial properties.

It starts to cover your baby’s skin at around 19 weeks of pregnancy and continues to thicken until around 35 weeks.

After that, as time goes on, the vernix starts to shed into the surrounding amniotic fluid.

While in the womb, babies swallow little bits of this vernix every day.

This actually strengthens their gut bacteria as well as prevents infection!

It also does important work when it’s time for your little one to leave the womb.

Basically, it’s designed to make the passage through the birth canal easier and smoother.

Plus, it acts as an antimicrobial cover for your baby as they pass through the bacteria-rich environment of the genital tract.

Why do some babies have no vernix?

If your baby is born with little to no vernix, they were probably born very close to or even after their due date.

Vernix is generally expected to have all but disappeared by 40 weeks, though there might be a little left in the folds of your baby’s skin or between their fingers and toes.

Does vernix mean baby is early?

Every baby is different, but babies born earlier usually do have more vernix than those who are born closer to their due date.

Any vernix present on a preterm baby, i.e., before 37 weeks, becomes all the more important as a protection for skin that is even more sensitive than usual.

Should I leave the vernix on my baby’s skin?

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends you leave the vernix on your baby’s skin for a good while so that they can reap the benefits.

Vernix helps keep their skin moisturized.

As you can imagine, the transition from a life in water to the dry atmosphere earthside is quite the about turn.

Newborn skin has a lot to acclimate to and leaving vernix on after birth leads to a much more hydrated skin surface.

And it may even help with thermoregulation.

(This is basically just science speak for, keeping them warmer.)

The theory goes that it does so by preventing the evaporation of water through the skin, a process that could cool them down too much at this early stage.

Skipping a bath on Day One also allows your baby to spend as much of those first precious hours with you, skin to skin.

In fact the WHO recommends delaying a baby’s first bath to 24 hours after birth for this very reason.

And considering they’re unlikely to be playing in mud just yet, sponge baths in which you just wash their face and diaper area are usually sufficient until their umbilical stump falls off.

While your brand-new baby may not look pink and shiny like they do in the movies, it’s important to remember vernix is not dirty.

So it’s not necessary to get it off immediately.

A gentle pat to get them dry, and a skin-to-skin snuggle, is best for everyone.

There are a few instances in which a baby should be bathed soon after birth, though.

The first is the presence of meconium.

Meconium is baby’s first poop.

It’s dark and tarry and can cause problems for baby if ingested.

Sometimes babies will pass this first poop in the womb and it then gets mixed into the vernix as they are born.

In this case, a good wash is important to prevent infection.

Similarly, if the baby’s mama is HIV positive or has hepatitis, an early bath is recommended to limit transmission to others who come into contact with baby.

Should I rub in the vernix?

In the weeks following birth, babies often shed the top layer of their skin.

(You may have heard this referred to as newborn skin peeling.)

The good news is that leaving vernix on and rubbing it in may help prevent this peeling.

Combine this with the antibacterial and antioxidant properties of this cheesy substance, and gently massaging it into the skin just makes sense!

How long does vernix stay on baby?

If you’re not planning to bathe your baby immediately after birth, chances are the vernix will all have been absorbed into their skin within 24 to 48 hours.

But it can stick around for as long as five days, and even longer in the sneaky little folds of your baby’s skin.

How to clean vernix off

Vernix should come off easily with a gentle wash.

Once you have passed the all-important 24 hours mark, and if you decide you don’t want to rub in what remains, follow the American Academy of Dermatology’s guidelines on baby bathing.

Make sure to use a mild, fragrance-free baby soap and begin with a sponge bath rather than full immersion.

This helps to protect their skin and prevent it from drying out.

As long as the diaper area is cleaned thoroughly at every diaper change, two or three sponge baths a week is enough for your little one.

And that is the story of vernix caseosa!

It has huge benefits for your baby, their skin, and their health.

So while it’s not magic in the wizarding sense, it certainly is magic for your brand-new babe✨.

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