Your baby’s vernix is one of the many little surprises you’ll get in the first few weeks of motherhood. Sometimes, it feels as though no matter how many books you read and websites you visit, there are still some strange mysteries you’ll have to deal with when baby starts to develop. Therefore, I am taking a moment to explain one such surprise that you’ll be glad to know. When your baby is born, his or her skin will be covered in a waxy film called vernix. Vernix, officially known as Vernix Casoesa, is part of the reason your baby will look like an alien from another planet when he or she makes the first appearance. Forget everything you’ve seen in the movies, as those “newborns” are closer to two months old and fresh out of the bathtub.

When your baby is in the womb, he or she is totally submerged in amniotic fluid. Anyone who has spent too much time in a bathtub can tell you that all that liquid can do a number on your skin, causing wrinkles and roughness. The vernix is there specifically to protect your baby’s skin from wrinkles and saturation. Some studies show that vernix even has some antibacterial properties.

The doctors will take your baby away a few moments after birth for a quick bath. Most of the vernix will come off in this bath, but any residual waxy film will come off slowly on its own time. This slow process often causes the skin to peel. If you notice white flakes on your baby’s skin in the first week or two, there is no need to panic. It is painless, and it’s just the vernix coming off as the skin adjusts to the air. Studies show that babies who were born past their due date have more of this waxy film on their skin because they needed extra protection from the moisture in the womb. If your baby was late to the party, his or her skin will likely peel more.

There is no special care for the removal of vernix. It will come off on its own, and you should only become concerned if there are any rashes or red spots accompanying the flakes. However, you should be extra cautious with your baby in the sun during the peeling process, because the new skin underneath the vernix will be especially sensitive. 

Source: Rashmi Sarkar et al: Skin Care for the Newborn. Indian Pediatrics Volume 47 Issue 7 pp. 593-598 July 2010

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