What is Vernix?Pregnancy
You laboured for what seemed like forever, desperately waiting to hold your newborn in your arms, and you’re handed what looks like a baby dipped in white buttercream frosting! What the heck? This mysterious, cheesy, wax-like substance is called Vernix Caseosa. It develops around the third trimester of pregnancy and protects the baby’s skin from getting all pruny and wrinkly from floating around in amniotic fluid. Vernix also muffles sound, insulates your baby at the perfect temperature, acts as a natural lubricant for birth, and serves as a moisturizer. One of the most amazing aspects is it also provides a protective barrier, both in the womb and out of it, from any unwanted pathogens, while exposing the newborn to naturally occurring bacteria to help build their immune system. And humans are the only species that make it!
As your baby matures in utero, surfactant is released from the lungs and mixes with the amniotic fluid causing vernix to release from the skin. That’s why in overdue babies, you will see little to none of this wonderful coating as it’s been absorbed into the amniotic fluid. It’s also why some babies look very dry and have flaky skin at birth.
Vernix also has a distinctive scent, it’s likened to that ‘new puppy’ or ‘new car’ smell. It’s a sweet aroma which entices parents to hold and snuggle their newborn. This increases parental bonding and releases the ‘feel-good’ hormone oxytocin. This unique smell only lasts for a few weeks, so that’s why everyone who holds your baby is sniffing their head!
Vernix doesn’t need to be washed off. Your newborn’s skin will soak up all it’s goodness. Rub it in!
We encourage you to learn more about our "What in the World" series. Please see our A to Z index for a whole host of pregnancy, postpartum, and parenting information and terminology.
Loree Siermachesky works as a multi-certified labour and postpartum doula, certified Lamaze childbirth educator, certified breastfeeding counselor, certified placenta encapsulation specialist and a certified car seat technician in Medicine Hat and Lethbridge. She has had the honour of attending over 1400 births in the last 20 years. She is well-known and greatly respected by the medical providers in Medicine Hat, Lethbridge, Brooks, Taber, and Calgary. She cares deeply for this profession and even more for her clientele, honoring them in whatever method of birth they choose, or helping them transition to new parenthood as they wish.