newborn baby covered in vernix

What is Vernix and Why Does It Matter?

Most newborns are covered with a white, greasy, cheese-like substance when they are born. This is called “vernix caseosa”. Though it may look yucky, vernix has several benefits for your baby. Let’s take a look at what exactly is the vernix and why it is important.


What is vernix?

newborn baby covered in vernix caseosa


The vernix is found uniquely in humans only.  It is also known as “birthing custard” that coats the skin of newborns. The words 'vernix caseosa' in Latin means “varnish” and “cheesy” respectively. Vernix is made up of a mixture of secretions from the sebaceous gland and skin cells.

Vernix shows up around the 19th week of pregnancy and only gets thicker until the 34th week. By the 40th week, most of the vernix is gone because it dissolves in the amniotic fluid and babies also may swallow some.

If your baby is born before the due date, he or she will be covered with more amount of vernix. If a baby is born on time, you might find a little bit of vernix and if a baby comes late, most of the vernix would have disappeared.


How is vernix produced?

Near the 20th week of gestation, the periderm cells begin to shed and they are replaced by the outermost layer of the epidermis. The skin that has shed mixes with the sebum that is produced by the sebaceous glands and the vernix is produced. The vernix then coats the baby’s body and helps in the formation of the “strateum corneum” which is the outer layer of the skin.


What does vernix do?

The purpose of vernix is to protect your baby against the acidic amniotic fluid in the womb. Vernix helps to hydrate a baby’s skin, insulate the body, and aids in maintaining proper and comfortable temperature while your baby is still inside your womb.

Vernix protects your baby from excess sound as it forms a layer over the ears. So even though your baby can hear you from about 25 weeks, the sound will be muffled.

After your baby is born, vernix protects your baby’s skin by retaining moisture and keeping away infections. Vernix helps your baby to latch on as well as the scent of the vernix triggers neural connections in the brain that are required for breastfeeding.

Vernix also helps during birth as it acts as a lubricant and helps your baby to slide out more easily. It also promotes perineal wound healing in cases of vaginal birth.


How long should vernix stay?

Many moms ask the question, “Should I remove vernix right away?” WHO recommends that you should leave the vernix on your baby for a minimum of six hours and preferably up to 24 hours. There is no official recommendation or set time when you have to bathe your baby, do what makes you comfortable.

There are no side effects of leaving the vernix on your baby after he or she is born. However, there are certain exceptions. Babies who are born with staining or chorioamnionitis should be bathed immediately after delivery to prevent bacterial infections. Also, babies who are born to HIV-positive moms or hepatitis-positive moms should be bathed immediately to reduce disease transmission. Under normal circumstances, you can leave the vernix on your baby for as long as you like.

Today, many hospitals are delaying the bath time of newborns. This is because they realize the importance of the vernix and try to leave it on the skin for a longer period. This also allows moms to spend more skin-to-skin and breastfeeding time with their babies. If you have decided to delay your baby’s bath time, let the nurses in the hospital know.

Though the vernix looks unsightly, it protects your baby while they are still in the womb and has plenty of benefits. Leave it on your baby for a couple of hours or a day to get the most out of it. When you are satisfied, you can bathe your baby after a couple of hours or a day.

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