What is vernix? Simply put, it’s the white cheese-like substance you see on a newborn baby’s skin. In scientific terms it’s known as vernix caseosa, which literally means ‘cheesy varnish’!
Vernix forms from the 20th week of pregnancy, and is made of 80% water, 10% fats, and 10%protein. As the pregnancy progresses and nears full term, the amount of vernix lessens. Theoretically a baby born after 40 weeks has no vernix any more, and a baby born at 37 weeks has a lot of vernix. That’s only in theory though, because sometimes babies born at 42 weeks still have vernix, and babies born around 38 weeks sometimes have none.
Researchers are still not completely sure why babies have vernix. It could be to protect the baby’s skin from the effects of ‘swimming’ in amniotic fluid. If you’ve been in the bath for too long, your skin looks old and wrinkly, but if you keep your skin oily then that doesn’t happen. However, that doesn’t explain why it only forms from week 20 onwards.
Vernix is also believed to protect from infection, so these days babies are not washed as quickly, and the vernix isn’t wiped off when a baby is born. It quickly soaks into the skin anyway, and disappears. Sometimes you’ll still see it in skin folds, like in the armpits, for a longer period of time.
Some also say that vernix helps to make the process of birth a little easier. I’ve never noticed vernix making a baby easier to birth than a baby with no vernix, but perhaps it does more than is directly visible.
No matter what, we know that vernix is good for your skin, because many face creams these days claim to have vernix as an ingredient. So if you give birth to a baby covered in vernix, be sure to quickly grab some to rub into your wrinkles. Who knows – it may help! 😉