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What is the Vernix Caseosa?

Nicole Madison
Updated May 17, 2024
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Vernix caseosa is a white substance that covers the skin of a fetus. This natural coating helps prevent the chapping and wrinkling of an unborn baby's skin. As babies spend months in amniotic fluid, this substance performs an extremely important purpose. In fact, vernix caseosa may even help protect a baby’s skin from infection, as the proteins within it have antibiotic properties. This substance may also help clean a baby’s skin while he’s still in his mother’s womb and help to make it easier for a baby to move through its mother’s birth canal.

The term vernix caseosa is Latin. Vernix means varnish, which is a reasonable description of this protective substance. Caseosa means cheesy, which is also pretty accurate, as the substance is white and cheesy or waxy looking. This substance comes from a baby’s sebaceous glands and consists of oil and skin cells that have been rubbed off.

Typically, babies are born with vernix caseosa still in place, though babies born after a full-term pregnancy are likely to have only part of this coating left over. Premature babies, on the other hand, are often completely covered with it. The reason for this difference is a chemical that stimulates amniotic fluid production. After a baby's lungs develop fully, which typically happens close to full-term birth, they produce a chemical that causes the body to make more amniotic fluid; this appears to cause the vernix caseosa layer to deteriorate somewhat. Since premature babies are often born before the lungs develop fully, this deterioration may not occur before birth.

Without this substance, a baby’s skin might looked not only chapped, but also very wrinkled. It might resemble the way a person’s skin looks after he’s soaked in a bath for an exceedingly long time. This protective coating, however, allows a baby’s skin to be smooth and soft at birth, despite that fact that he has spent months in fluid.

Often, newborn babies are shown as completely clean in television childbirth scenes. Usually, the opposite is true, and real newborns have blood, other fluids, and vernix caseosa on their bodies when they are fresh from the womb. New parents may only see this coating briefly, however, as it is usually wiped off soon after birth. Sometimes, however, parents may choose to massage it into their baby’s skin, hoping that their newborn babies will benefit from this natural moisturizer, even after birth.

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Nicole Madison
By Nicole Madison , Writer
Nicole Madison's love for learning inspires her work as a WiseGeek writer, where she focuses on topics like homeschooling, parenting, health, science, and business. Her passion for knowledge is evident in the well-researched and informative articles she authors. As a mother of four, Nicole balances work with quality family time activities such as reading, camping, and beach trips.

Discussion Comments

By anon285842 — On Aug 17, 2012

Is it possible to urinate parts of the vernix when in the beginning of your third trimester?

By MedicineBall — On Sep 02, 2011

I massaged the vernix into my baby's skin -- my doctor is very supportive of natural methods, so he suggested that I do. My mom was horrified because she wanted a clean baby for pictures, but if vernix might give my baby a better chance -- he'll just have to be dirty in the pictures.

@amsden2000 - That movie is very funny, but I think the scene where she has her baby is still a little too beautified. The scene where they watch the water birth is absolutely hysterical.

Another note to those observing the birth -- if this is your first one, do not try to film it. Have someone who has seen a birth or two film. Then there won't be any fainting caught on film.

My husband wanted to film the birth, but he ended up passing the camera off to my aunt, who had never been to a birth either. Half way through our birthing film, she faints and the camera ends up on the floor.

Maybe you can set it up on a tripod or something -- just don't hold it if you're new. The doctors will appreciate not having to scrape you off of the floor!

By amsden2000 — On Sep 02, 2011

I think leaving vernix on your baby is a good idea. It's there for a reason and is great for your baby's skin, especially in winter. I can't imagine going from safe and warm into the dry winter air.

Television births are ridiculous and keep new parents in the dark. I think that's why so many guys faint at their child's births -- they just expect a clean baby. The baby's face can be temporarily deformed from escaping the womb and it will be covered in all kinds of stuff.

Deep breath guys. If the doctor is calm, the baby is fine. The vernix on your baby is good for it -- it is okay. All you have to do is sit down and put your head between your legs.

One movie that tried to do a more realistic (and hilarious) birth scene is the "Back Up Plan." You should watch it if your wife is expecting -- the hero is probably going through the same reaction you will have.

Nicole Madison

Nicole Madison


Nicole Madison's love for learning inspires her work as a WiseGeek writer, where she focuses on topics like...
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