Making the most of important newborn skin substances
Nature has a beautiful design to equip babies with survival and wellness tools — even before they take their first breaths.
Unfortunately, many newborn babies are rushed from birth to first bath before they’re able to take full advantage of these tools.
Let’s take a look at the beneficial substances baby is covered in at birth, and the benefits of waiting to bathe your newborn.
Vernix and maternal flora aren’t yucky
Before we get into how great vernix and maternal bacteria are, we have to acknowledge that many of us have been socialized to find them dirty.
But part of giving babies the best start requires us to reframe our thoughts about natural birth substances. Rather than rushing to wash and sanitize all things gooey or bacterial, we have to look at the design behind them.
The sticky white substance that begins forming around baby about halfway through gestation is called vernix caseosa. Though it may not make for the most cherubic newborn photos, vernix is one of nature’s first gifts to help your baby transition safely into the outside world.
Why vernix is so important
Though drying baby off is important for heat retention, it’s not necessary to wash off the waxy vernix. Research is finding that vernix has many of the same amazing immune proteins as breast milk.
When baby ingests loosened vernix in the womb, it prepares baby’s belly flora for the upcoming nutrition and immunity that will join the mix when baby begins breastfeeding. But there’s even more going on outside!
The study linked above also found vernix substances help baby avoid infection from common perinatal group B. Streptococcus, K. pneumoniae, L. monocytogenes, C. albicans, and E. coli.
The moisturizing waxiness of vernix is full of phospholipids, amino acids, proteins, healthy cholesterol and triglycerides, sterol esters, squalene, ceramides. And it’s unlike any other substance we find in nature — occurring only on human babies, and with more than half of the present proteins existing only within vernix.
Maternal flora gives babies their microbiome
A second gift found on the skin of vaginally born babies is maternal flora. Babies who receive vaginal flora (talk to your midwife about vaginal seeding if you have a water birth) develop a hearty microbiome and have better long term health.
The bacteria and yeast babies pick up on their way out have been linked to lower rates of irritable bowel syndrome, asthma, allergies, and obesity.
This wonderful array of healthy flora baby is exposed to during birth is another powerful argument to wait to bathe your newborn baby.
So how long should you wait to bathe your newborn?
There are different opinions on this, but waiting at least 24 hours is a great way to give your baby the best start. Some people wait longer, taking care to remove any residual blood, meconium, and urine as the baby progresses through the first full week unbathed.
While you wait to bathe your baby you can gently, gradually massage the vernix into baby’s skin. There is little odor to it, and it will continue to benefit and protect your baby’s skin as it gets absorbed.
When you’re ready to bathe your newborn, choose a gentle washing solution (not a soap) and a soft cloth. Some parents forego the washing solution altogether and use plain warm water to cleanse their new baby.
The Retreat Birth Center has answers for your natural birth questions
If you’re interested in learning more about baby-friendly birth and postnatal practices like this, please get in touch with us.
We would love to meet you and take you on a one-hour tour of our beautiful birth center!