The afterbirth goop on your baby might be gross, but some mothers have been requesting to delay their babies’ first bath for hours – even days – to profit as much as possible from the vernix caseosa. That’s the white creamy wax coating that covers baby after birth. By holding off, certified nurse practitioners like Rena Leone of Henry Ford Health System Detroit have found this natural moisturizer protects baby’s skin.
In Latin, “vernix” means to varnish and “caseous” is a cheesy nature. The amount and appearance of vernix varies for each child; some may be white and creamy, others barley visible. Babies tend to lose the vernix the longer the mother is pregnant, notes AboutHealth.com.
“There is a large body of evidence published (that shows) it really should not be removed or rubbed off” quickly after birth, says Leone, who is also a neonatal nurse practitioner. Newborns can’t control their temperature, and the vernix is natural insulator that helps regulate it. Losing this layer exposes infants to skin infections and fevers if they get too cold.
Normally, after babies are delivered, they are taken and gently dried off. But recently, HFHS extended its routine time of bathing. “Our practice has changed. We used to do it two to four hours” after birth, Leone says. “Now it’s 12 so the baby is stable.”
Not only is the vernix a natural moisturizer and insulator, Leone adds, but it protects skin and works as a barrier to water loss.
“For a healthy well baby, there aren’t any cons,” says Leone. “If there is too much on the skin, it can get into the lungs – but we don’t see that happening too often.” The only time babies need to be bathed immediately is if there’s potential risk of exposure to HIV or diseases; they need to be bathed before immunization, Leone says. “No dangers, as long as there aren’t any breaks or scratches in the skin.” It’s common to request a delayed bath at your hospital. “I think in the first 48 hours, is not unreasonable,” says Leone.
After birth, “We believe it’s very important for skin-to-skin bonding and early breast feeding as soon as possible.”
Handle with care
Newborns need minimal washing. “A baby doesn’t have to be bathed every day. A sponge bath every other day – mainly just in the diaper area,” says Leone. She recommends plain water and to make sure the room is warm and there are no drafts.
“Make sure everything they need is right there,” Leone says. And if the whole body is being washed, “Make sure the hair is washed before the body; then, put a hat on while the body is being washed.” Leone also advises that any type of lotion or product is gentle, and nothing should be applied to the face.
Illustration by Mary Kinsora