Why shouldn’t you be bathing your newborn?
Not long ago I was with a patient as she delivered her baby in a hospital. As soon as the cord was cut and it was determined that the baby was perfectly healthy, the nurse whisked her away for her first bath to “scrub all the gunk off her”. Scrub she did. It hurt me to watch.
Well, Nurse Ratchet, that “gunk” is there for a reason, you silly little wench. Studies actually support a delay in bathing your newborn for several days.
The medical term for the cheesy white stuff that covers most newborns during birth is Vernix Caseosa (translation: cheese varnish – ha!), or Vernix for short. You can even see it in-utero…check it out here below.
Vernix is produced by baby’s sebaceous glands starting in the 3rd trimester. Rich in emollients and antibacterial properties, vernix protects baby’s skin while in utero. You know how your skin wrinkles in the bath after only a few minutes? Imagine being in fluid for 40 weeks! Vernix buffers the skin and prevents loss of fluids and electrolytes in utero. During birth, vernix provides an antimicrobial layer against the bacteria-rich vagina and protects the skin from friction as baby is squeezed down the birth canal – baby lube!
But what about after baby is born? Shouldn’t we wipe that shit off? It’s gross!
Gross though it may be, vernix is thought to help with regulation of baby’s body temperature in the first hours after birth – it acts as an insulator. That’s a big deal, because it can be really difficult for babies to maintain proper body temperature.
It is also known to assist in the adaptation from life in the womb to life outside the womb. It’s a different world out there, people! Wet-to-dry, different pH, scratchy clothes, etc. Vernix is the perfect moisturizer/insulator/antibiotic ointment.
Johnson’s baby lotion has nothing on vernix (more on that train wreck later…but I’ll leave you thinking about why it’s PINK!) If only we could bottle the stuff!
Rubbing your newborn with a soft towel or blanket after birth will help to stimulate respiration and rub some of the vernix in, without wiping it off. There is no need to be bathing your newborn until day 4 or 5, when the great majority of the vernix will flake off by itself. A soft, wet cloth around the mouth, eyes and genitals will take care of hygiene needs until it’s really time for the first true bath.