Vernix caseosa: origin, function and recommendations

Vernix caseosa is a kind of grayish-white natural cream that is partially present on the skin of the newborn. We detail its many benefits below.

Last update: September 16, 2021

After delivery and when you come into immediate contact with your baby, it is very likely that you will notice her skin covered with a whitish layer called vernix caseosa. It is a film that begins to form around the 20th week of pregnancy, whose main function is to act as an exterior barrier.

In utero, it protects the fetus from maceration of amniotic fluid and helps in the different stages of skin maturation. Once the baby is born, it continues to favor it, as it keeps it hydrated and serves as an insulator to prevent infection or injury.

For this reason, it is understandable that many health centers are choosing to postpone the baby's bath for a few hours. The priority is focused on keep this layer of natural cream intact without being an impediment to the first skin-to-skin contact that defends humanized childbirth.

What is vernix caseosa?

This layer is a kind of blanket that will cover the delicate skin of the baby from the last trimester of pregnancy to a few days after birth. It is produced by the secretion of the sebaceous glands and the remains of the fetal epidermis.

It is composed of 81% water, 9% lipids and 10% proteins, as indicated by the research "Unveiling the mystery of vernix caseosa." 39% of the proteins identified are components of innate immunity and 29% have antimicrobial properties.

Vernix caseosa can cover the entire body of the baby, as well as being noticed only in the back, chest or folds. The week in which the gestation was found for the birth has a lot to do with it, since towards the end of the pregnancy it disappears. Vice versa, the sooner delivery occurs, the more the newborn will have.

As described in a study, it functions as a defense system, since it contains antimicrobial proteins that provide antifungal protection and inhibition of proteases, as well as inactivation of parasites.

The newborn's bathing takes longer and longer in time, since it seeks to maintain this protective layer for its natural detachment.


Vernix caseosa benefits

Among the main benefits of vernix are that it serves as spontaneous protection of the baby from the mother's womb until a few days after birth. Well, it is also a means of adaptation in the extrauterine world, which allows to regulate the temperature.

In intrauterine life, this layer fulfills the following functions:

  • When ingesting vernix, the development of the baby's intestine is promoted by the amino acids it contains.
  • Facilitates epidermal growth.
  • Have a waterproofing effect on the fetus.

From birth, the most notable is the following:

  • It is an antioxidant, since it contains melanin and alpha-tocopherol (vitamin E).
  • Protects the skin of the newborn, which lacks bacterial flora.
  • Acts as a healing before any injury or scratch, since it has glutamine among its amino acids.
  • Keeps baby's skin moisturized, due to its watery constitution.
  • Promotes thermoregulation in the newborn, in the period of adaptation to the extrauterine temperature.

When should the baby's first bath be?

On this point there is no officially stipulated period. It will depend on the decision of the parents, according to the recommendations of the pediatrician.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends waiting about six hours. Lengthening the bath promotes the benefits of vernix caseosa, allowing time for it to be reabsorbed by the baby's skin.

Therefore, it will depend on the criteria of whoever is in charge of family counseling. Trying to remove vernix caseosa can cause an unnecessary injury to the skin, as it will naturally disappear a few days after delivery. It can be gently cleaned with a damp towel to remove other residues.

Bathing him, even a week after birth, will not bring any inconvenience that compromises the health of the baby. Specialists recommend do not start hygiene until the temperature is stable. As well as bathing newborns with neutral soaps, not with scented ones.

The layer that covers the newborn performs functions of regulating body temperature to adapt to the environment outside the uterus.


Delaying the first bath

In conclusion, It is not recommended to remove vernix caseosa immediately as a hygienic measure of the baby. Cleaning it superficially is enough, especially if there are dark stains indicative of meconium traces.

Contrary to the bath used to present the newborn with the mother, studies increasingly suggest that it is more profitable not to do so. Letting this biological protective mantle progress naturally for better hydration of the baby's skin is ideal.

This guarantees a greater possibility of protection against bacteria and, therefore, a less exposure to the polluting environment after delivery.