When I see a brand new newborn, fresh from the womb, the first thing I think of is 'look at that perfectly lovely baby!'.
Now, the average American would respond with 'What??! Clean that baby up, ick!'. Not me, though, no ma'am!
Vernix Caseosa is a marvelous mixture of skin oil and dead cells that baby shed while in the womb. Yes, even oil and dead cells are beautiful... when you consider that this helped to protect him from dehydration and now, while outside the womb, acts as an antioxidant, temperature-regulator, antibacterial (working against E. Coli, GBS, and other bacteria), wound super-healing, cleansing, and moisturizing cold cream.
"... the innate immune proteins found in vernix and amniotic fluid are similar to those found in breast milk. As the baby prepares for extrauterine life, pulmonary surfactant (a substance produced by the maturing fetal lungs) increases in the amniotic fluid, resulting in the detachment of vernix from the skin.
The vernix mixes with the amniotic fluid and is swallowed by the growing fetus. Given the antimicrobial properties of this mixture."
the authors conclude that there is
“considerable functional and structural synergism between the prenatal biology of vernix caseosa and the postnatal biology of breast milk." - The American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, 2004
Amazingly, we have been provided with our own personally, genetically, specifically formulated cold cream from the moment of birth that will prevent peeling of newborn skin as it acclimates to the extra-uterine environment, as well as protects against all the icky stuff it might encounter out here! Heck yeah, I love vernix! While we are on this subject, all of you mother's can attest to this: that newborn smell, that uniquely, only one-in-an-ever smell that was only your own babies?
That smell comes from the vernix, as that unique smell is concocted from the oil your baby produces for his own skin and the amniotic fluid that he was floating in for 9 months. Vernix Caseosa begins to build up around 27 weeks. Preterm babies tend to have more vernix than full term or fuller-term babies, and it is no mistake of nature that this occurs, preterm babies need the vernix' specialized properties even more than full/er term babies do, although all benefit from it.
Shortly after birth (a few days - although longer if you choose not to bathe baby too soon), baby will start to loose that newly newborn smell, although you will still be able to smell your 'uniquely yours' baby smell to some extent. Prolong it as long as possible - that's right, sniff that newborns vernixy body - it helps with bonding, attachment, lactation, and mood stability in those first few day postpartum.
Consider holding off on the newborn bath, especially if you are planning on a hospital birth.
Rub that vernix in, relish in your babies amazing built in defense system, and sniff that baby!
Nicole Deelah, CBE, MW apprentice, & Doula
Serving Houston to the Gulf