What is vernix?

Have you ever noticed how newborn babies on television and in the movies are always a picture of angelic beauty? Perfect noses, perfectly pink skin, perfectly round heads that are completely bald? As any mother or father can tell you, these pictures are often a far cry from the truth! Newborns often have a squished nose, from passing through the birth canal; Their heads are sometimes almost cone-shaped, also from passing through the birth canal; They often have very fine hair, sometimes all over their bodies; and, their skin is often covered with a white substance. This white substance is called Vernix.

Vernix, technically known as “Vernix Casoesa,” is a cheesy or waxy white substance that is found coating the skin of newborn babies. Vernix is secreted by the baby’s sebaceous glands while it is still in the uterus. Vernix is thought to protect the baby’s skin from the amniotic fluid surrounding it. Without the vernix, the baby’s skin would become wrinkly, much like regular human skin that has been in the water for too long. Some research has suggested that the vernix has antibacterial properties, and helps keep the unborn baby from infections.

Vernix first appears on the baby’s skin at around 20 weeks of pregnancy. The amount of vernix present on the baby’s skin decreases near the end of the pregnancy. Some babies will be born with a large amount of vernix still on the skin; some will be born with very little vernix on the skin. Most of the vernix will come off with baby’s first bath; the rest will be absorbed into the skin. For some babies, the loss of vernix can cause the skin to peel during their first week after birth.

Other newborn characteristics that may surprise the new parent include:

– Caput Succedaneum. This is a blister-like bump on your baby’s forehead. It may be feel spongy, as it is a buildup of fluid in your baby’s scalp tissue. This only happens to vaginally born babies and is caused by the trip down the birth canal. This may look serious, but will disappear on its own after a few days.

– Lanugo. This is soft, downy and sometimes dark hair that can be found on your baby’s head, trunks or limbs.

– Milia. These are hard, white spots resemble pimples and are found on your newborn’s nose. They will usually disappear within the first few weeks following birth.

– Head Molding. During a vertex, or head-first, birth, the pressure of passing through the birth canal can ‘mold’ the head into an oblong shape.

– Breast Swelling. Your baby may have enlarged breasts that leak a milky substance. The swelling will go down in a few days to a couple of weeks.

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