Wait! Don’t Wash That Newborn!

Wait! Don’t Wash That Newborn!

Do you ever watch a television show where a baby is born and laugh as they hand the new mom a clean, approximately 8-week old baby? Most people are well-aware that babies are born with a slimy mucus-like covering on them. For years, I just assumed it was from being inside the mom’s uterus—leftover amniotic fluid or something that surrounded the baby while in the uterus. Well, it has a name—vernix. And by definition, it’s “a white cheeselike protective material that covers the skin of a fetus.” But, what is it, and why do babies have it?

Vernix is produced during the third trimester and it provides a temporary skin barrier for the watery environment babies live in while in utero. According to Cosmetics & Toiletries Sciences Applied, the prenatal functions of vernix include:” waterproofing, since due to the low surface energy, vernix caseosa is highly unwettable; the facilitation of the skin formation in utero; and protection of the fetus from acute or sub-acute chorioamnionitis (an inflammation of the outer (chorion) and inner (amnion) fetal membranes due to a bacterial infection). During delivery, vernix caseosa acts as a lubricant while postnatally, it exhibits antioxidant, skin cleansing, temperature-regulating and antibacterial properties.”

Since we have no control over vernix during pregnancy and delivery, it’s important to discuss its postnatal significance where we do have control. Proven to have such great benefits postnatally, it makes you wonder why we are in such a rush to give newborns their first bath—removing vernix. When I had my children, I think the excitement of giving birth made me oblivious to much of what was going on in the delivery room. But, after reviewing paperwork given to me at the hospital detailing the stay of each of my children, I confirmed neither of them received their first baths immediately after birth (phew!). The blood and meconium was immediately wiped away, but I think the vernix was “allowed” to stay on their bodies and was quickly absorbed, as vernix does.

Modern science and Western Medicine recognizes the benefits of vernix. A study regarding the significance of vernix was published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, 191 (6), 2090-2096, titled: Antimocrobial Properties of Amniotic Fluid and Vernix Caseosa are Similar to Those Found in Breast Milk. This study revealed that a number of immune substances were present in both amniotic fluid and vernix samples. Tests using antimicrobial growth inhibition essays showed these substances were effective at deterring  the growth of common perinatal pathogens— group B. Streptococcus, K. pneumoniae, L. monocytogenes, C. albicans and E. coli.

Results from this study brought into question the practices commonly used when treating newborns. The study suggests that baby’s first bath should be delayed until at least twenty-four hours after birth. The Department of Health in conjunction with the World Health Association has set-forth a protocol for newborns, and in the section regarding thorough immediate drying of the baby (0-3 minutes after birth), it says “Do not wipe off vernix,” and “Do not bathe the newborn.”  The protocol later states that you should wait at least six hours to wash the baby.

When you have a baby, it’s important to discuss your wishes with not only your physician, but also your entire care staff at the hospital where you deliver your baby. Make sure your partner is aware of your wishes, because if you’re like I was, you will be so caught up in pushing out a baby and the excitement that goes along with it, that postponing the first bath could easily slip your mind. If I were to have another child, I would inquire as to what the hospital’s protocol is. Some hospitals do wait longer than others to bathe your baby, so this could be a non-issue for you. If not, I’ve seen people who have sayings printed on a onesie customized for their newborns. You could do this and have it read “Please do not bathe me.” Whatever you do, make sure your wishes are known by everyone who will come into contact with your little one.

So, next time you have a baby, let the hospital staff know you’d like to “Keep the vernix now, clean the baby later!”


8 total comments on this postSubmit yours
  1. What about if the child is born into a birthing pool? Does the vernix even have a chance to absorb if they are pretty much instantly given a “bath”.

    • I would assume that because you are not scrubbing the baby and actively wiping off the vernix it still has a chance to be asorbed. It may be slightly less then an out of water bath but I would guess it’s still ok.

    • As listed in the reasons/benefits of vernix, it is “waterproof”. Baby is in water while in utero so, no, a water birth does not wash off the vernix. The sort of bath to avoid is the kind using rubbing, wiping, soap, cleansers, etc. Just water is not a problem.

    • When babies are washed at the hospital they are washed with soap and a washcloth. Being born into a tub of warm water is similar to floating around in amniotic fluid.

  2. Tara – I believe they are referring to baths with soap. Since the vernix is waterproof, it doesn’t just come off with water. I discovered this after my third baby was born. She was born at home, not underwater, but we did sit back down in my birth pool (keeping her mostly above water). The vernix was quite thick and stayed around for at least three days, despite me taking her into sitz baths in my tub. You literally have to wipe it off or wash them with soap to get it off, and even then there may still be some left. :-)

  3. My dayghter was born in the birthing pool at home, as I caught the baby in the water her skin was very slippery, as I held her out of the water I thought she had some sort of dermatatis, I just breastfed her almost straight away ( well she cried first:) ) and had to wait for the midwife for 20mn (she missed the birth !!!), I knew about the vernix but thought that was a very fine layer of easy wipeable kind of lubricant, but what had my daughter was so thick that I believed it was her skin and she looked a bit like a lezard…I loved her anyway..It wasn’t nice but it was the best creamy texture I never touched ..My midwife arrived and told me that was the vernix…I, of, course didn’t give her a bath for the first week or so…oh! baby….

  4. I still remember when my older sister had her baby & I was present at the birth. I will never forget touching the vernix & it was truly the softest, creamiest-type lotion I had ever felt! Now, if they could only recreate that & bottle it, we’d all have “baby soft” skin….literally! :)

  5. The only issue here is that most of the time Hospitals do not respect the birth plans of parents. They adhere to protocall and will make a stand if you attempt to do anything outside of that parameter. WIth that said, I still encourage women to stand up and make a stand themselves. Too many hospitals are interfering more than helping…

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