Everything is better with cheese and babies are no exception. The cheese-like covering that babies are coated in at birth is called Vernix Caseosa or simply vernix. The vernix has vital benefits in utero, at birth, and even after birth. The vernix develops mostly in the third trimester and covers the baby from head to toe… literally! The cheese-like appearance is due to its composition of 81% water, 9% lipids, and 10% proteins.
In utero the vernix is thought to promote gut development and occurs as vernix is swallowed with amniotic fluid by the growing fetus. the vernix also acts as a barrier over a babies skin to prevent loss of water and electrolytes, known as Trans Epidermal Water Loss. This slimy covering reduces friction during delivery and also acts as an antimicrobial covering, protecting the baby from exposure to potentially harmful bacteria in the mother's genital tract.
Many birth practitioners automatically wipe off this cheesy goodness immediately after birth, depriving your baby of the important postnatal benefits of the vernix such as thermoregulation. Temperature control for premature babies in the first few hours of life is a common issue, even with the use of incubators. Studies reveal that premature babies with vernix have closer to normal body temperatures after birth.
Vernix also works as a great moisturizer for newborn skin. When compared with other effective moisturizers such as petrolatum, aquaphor, and eucerin, vernix proved to be more moisturizing as it has a greater water content. Moreover, the other moisturizers also lack the natural anti-bacterial properties that are present in the vernix. These properties are so effective and therapeutic on skin healing that vernix is now being studied as a possible treatment for grafting burn areas.
Don't worry if your baby is born with little or no vernix. Typically, babies born later don’t present with as much as expected, and you may just find it hiding in those newborn nooks and crannies. The World Health Organization recommends that the Vernix Caseosa remain present for at least 24 hours after birth. Theres no doubt you'll take lots of pictures during that time, and may not have imagined those photos with a gooey coating on your baby. But when it comes to comparing the benefits of keeping the vernix, with the benefits of a cleaned off baby the decision is clear - say cheese!