When baby is born, they may be covered in a thick coating of a white waxy substance... this is called vernix caseous (literally translates as cheesy varnish! Lovely!). This coating protects baby’s skin while they’re floating around in the amniotic fluid in the womb. It stops baby’s skin going all prune-like and also acts as a barrier from infection. Not all babies are born with vernix. If you’re overdue, baby is less likely to have as much, if any.
It’s tempting to bathe baby straight after birth but there’s lots of benefits from delaying washing baby. Vernix has antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties which can protect baby from infection. It’s a natural moisturiser and protects baby’s fragile skin from drying and cracking. It may also help regulate baby’s body temperature. A study by the National Association of Neonatal Nursing (NANN) and the Association of Women's Health Obstetrical and Neonatal Nursing (AWHONN) in 1998 discovered “removal of all vernix is not necessary for hygienic reasons” and “vernix may provide antibacterial promotion and wound healing”. World Health Organization (WHO) also recommends leaving vernix intact on the skin surface after birth. Delaying bathing baby may also help promote an undisturbed hour after birth, vital for bonding and promotion of hormones for breast feeding.
Beautiful photo of baby with a mask of vernix by Hannah Palamara https://hannahpalamarabirthphotography.com