Newborns emerge into this world red-faced, squalling and covered in a creamy guck (not a technical term).
In years past practices and expectations were that baby would be whisked away, given a first bath to clean that guck off, plus a whole series of tests, and placed fresh, clean and swaddled in mom’s arms sometime after birth, sanitized, and picture perfect. But these practices are contrary to what the research studies tell us about the power of vernix caseosa and what is usually best for baby.
Far from being unsanitary, the guck or vernix caseosa serves a number of purposes:
1. The vernix protects the baby during pregnancy and facilitates development of the stratum corneum (top layer of the skin).
2. Vernix contains antimicrobial proteins that are active against group B. streptococcus and E. coli.
3. It has hydrating properties.
4. Vernix contains anti-infective and wound-healing properties that are important post birth.
Today, hospital practices at TMC for Women’s Labor and Delivery unit are changing to reflect what we know about the importance of vernix and keeping mamma and baby together in those golden hours following birth. Rather than whisking baby off for their first bath, we wait, delaying the bath and keeping the newborn together with his or her mother until breastfeeding is established. Waiting to allow the vernix to be absorbed may also prevent some cases of devastating infections caused by bacteria.
Olga Ryan, RN MS-NL and Clinic Manager at the El Rio Women’s and Birth Center, midwife explains further,
One of the primary reasons a baby is bathed after birth is so that health care workers are less likely to be carrying blood borne pathogens from one baby to another patient. But health care providers wear gloves when handling a baby until the family is ready to bathe the baby.
Most vernix will have completely absorbed by the time the baby is six to twelve hours old, which means a family can focus on skin to skin during the “golden” hours and the baby can still be bathed by hospital staff who can demonstrate “how” to new parents before the family is ready to go home.
Don’t be surprised when your baby comes to you covered with a creamy guck, it’s nature’s special newborn antimicrobial, wound-healing moisturizer and it’s powerfully good.
For more information on bathing baby. Check out this post with tips from experts Olga Ryan and Alicia Lang.
Visscher M, Narendran V. The Ontogeny of Skin. Adv Wound Care (New Rochelle). 2014 Apr 1;3(4):291-303.
Maria Tollin, Gudmundur Bergsson, Ylva Kai-Larsen, Johan Lengqvist, Jan Sjövall, William Griffiths, Gudrún V Skúladóttir, Ásgeir Haraldsson,Hans Jörnvall, Gudmundur H Gudmundsson, and Birgitta Agerbertha Vernix caseosa as a multi-component defence system based on polypeptides, lipids, and their interactions, Cell Mol Life Sci. Oct 2005; 62(19-20): 2390–2399.