The vernix caseosa is the waxy looking white substance that covers your newborn baby. When you see videos of a birth on television, you may see the doctors wiping off the “dirty” looking baby. If you think that this is a good idea, you may want to reconsider. This substance, made up of the skin oil and dead cells that the baby has shed in the womb, helps protect him or her from dehydration. Without the vernix caseosa, the baby would be born wrinkly from constantly being exposed to amniotic fluid.
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Many babies suffer drying of their skin after birth. This causes them to become more easily irritated and scaly looking. If the vernix caseosa is left intact, the newborn will have more hydrated skin. In addition, the vernix caseosa also contains antimicrobials that are active against E. Coli, Group B Streptococcus, and other bacteria. So, leaving this substance intact, even though it's not very pretty, can prevent your child from becoming ill. Keeping the child together with his or her mother, and delaying the bath, can prevent some infections that are caused by the presence of these bacteria in hospitals.
Scientific studies have shown that vernix works not only as a moisturizer. It's also an effective cleanser, anti-infective agent, anti-oxidant and a wound healer. Studies are underway to find out how to synthesize the substance for use in helping children and adults who are in need of this substance's benefits, and to act as a delivery system for medication and other treatments.
Preterm babies tend to have more vernix on them than those born at full term. This is because the amount of vernix caseosa present decreases as birth nears. This substance originally develops at around 27 weeks, and is present up until birth. Babies who are born before 27 weeks may not have any vernix present. Stable preterm babies should especially be allowed to spend some time with their mothers immediately after birth, without being bathed. This may assist them in feeling less discomfort and remaining healthier than if they were cleaned.
If you're due to have a baby soon tell everyone not to wash your baby as soon as he or she is born, in fact put it in your birth plan if you are going to the hospital.Spend a minimum of 2 hours skin to skin with your baby even before you allow the nurse to take him/her to be weighed and measured. Avoid washing your child, even if he or she appears dirty, for at least a four to five days. You may wish to rub this fatty, waxy substance into the skin to reduce the danger of dehydration. Vernix caseosa might look unappealing, but it's really one of Nature's defenses against dryness, bacterial infections, and other dangers that your newborn might encounter.
Joseph Chilton Pierce in his book Magical Child, tells us that massaging the vernix in the baby's skin, as he is on our chest, immediately following his birth, may help the newborn begin to learn and be aware of his/her body. Usually the attending nurse will vigorously, and even roughly massaging the baby with the receiving blanket. She has been instructed to do so to stimulate the baby so that he may take the first breath and voice the shrilling cry, she’ll tell you “will clear his lungs.” In the past doctors would, for the same reason, take the baby by the feet and spank their little tush. “It’s good for the lungs” the doctor would pronounce, the more the baby cries the healthier he is. As baby advocates screamed abuse the practice as simply changed to scrubbing hard and even pulling hair. Following a birth, a nurse has a lot to attend to and needs to make sure the baby is breathing while on the mother’s chest from a distance. Best then is to rough him up a bit so that he will cry and she can go back to help the doctor either suture up, or catch the placenta etc. How could anyone blame her?
When my son was born I asked the midwife not to wipe my son, but allow me and only me to touch him, I explained to her that I understood she needed to make sure he was breathing normally and that if there were any problems with that I would welcome her her professional help. As I confidently massaged his entire body, I I would get to his extremities and say “this is where your body ends and the world begins.” It simply felt much more natural, I also encouraged him to tell me his story, thus letting me hear his voice without having to hurt him to get a reaction. Most new moms can barely caress their new born let alone vigorously massage the vernix in. Thus it is understandable that nurses or midwives in attendance need to do it, but consider taking over that job (which is rightfully yours) and change your child first experience of touch for the rest of his life.
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About the reviewer
Giuditta Tornetta (Giuditta)
I am a certified birth and postpartum doula, lactation educator, a certified clinical hypnotherapist, and the author of the best selling book Painless Childbirth: An Empowering Journey Through pregnancy … more
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Vernix is theorized to serve several purposes, including moisturizing the infant's skin, and facilitating passage through the birth canal. It serves to conserve heat and protect the delicate newborn skin from environmental stress. Vernix is also thought to have an antibacterial effect; though there is little to support a chemical role of vernix in protecting the infant from infection, it may form a physical barrier to the passage of bacteria.