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For baby’s health, just say cheese

Let’s talk about baby’s skin and that cheesy white substance they are born with.  What is it, and how does it benefit your baby?

The scientific name of that cheesy white substance is vernix caseosa – vernix, for short. Vernix is a coating on baby’s skin made up of fatty secretions and dead skin cells, and it is incredibly important to your developing fetus and newborn. Here’s why.

While your baby is still growing inside you, vernix forms a barrier that protects her from losing fluids and electrolytes. Your baby also frequently swallows vernix in the womb. It sounds gross, but swallowed vernix helps coat the intestines so they develop properly. And vernix helps reduce friction in the birth canal during delivery.

If all of that isn’t enough, vernix continues to help your baby after delivery by acting as an antimicrobial barrier. If left in place for a few hours after birth, vernix helps the skin stay hydrated and prevents cracking and peeling. Every momma is concerned with peeling, cracked skin. Believe it or not, vernix is more powerful than any lotion you could ever buy!

After hearing all of those benefits, don’t you want your baby to hang on to this cheese a little while longer?

At Madison Hospital and Huntsville Hospital for Women & Children, we recommended waiting at least 8 hours – and as long as 24 hours – before giving baby her first bath. Along with the health benefits discussed above, leaving vernix in place will help regulate your baby’s temperature and blood glucose and help you establish and maintain breastfeeding.

Simply patting baby dry, leaving the amniotic fluid on the hands, helps her make the brain connections for breastfeeding to be successful.  This is also why we recommend rooming-in with baby during your hospital stay. Separation interferes with the natural processes after birth, which is stressful for both baby and mom.

While we recommend a delayed first bath for healthy, full-term babies, certain situations will require a bath immediately following delivery. These include if mom is positive for HIV or hepatitis. In those cases, we wash the vernix away to decrease the risk of transmission to others.  Immediate bathing may also be recommended if mom has a uterine infection or infection of the amniotic fluid.  Ask your nurse if any of these apply to you.

When it is time to bathe your baby for the first time, your nurse or nurse tech will come to your room and assist you. Don’t worry, Madison Hospital and Huntsville Hospital for Women & Children have all the bathing supplies you need.

All you’ll need to bring from home is a cute outfit for afterwards and a camera to capture this special moment!

Renee Colquitt, CRNP, NNP-BC
Renee Colquitt, CRNP, NNP-BC
Director of Perinatal Services at Madison Hospital


This information highlights the services of the HH Health System as well as current health topics important to families. The information is not intended to replace the advice of a physician. Every person is different, so please contact a physician to help you make the appropriate health care decision. HH Health System has made an effort to ensure the accuracy of the information at the time of publication.

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