Preterm babies are born with more vernix on their skin than at-term babies.
Vernix is a wonderful substance that exhibits antioxidant, cleansing, temperature-regulating and antibacterial properties. It colonizes the skin with microorganisms after birth and prevents peeling of newborn skin. Also, a baby that still has vernix on her hands will find the breast much easier all on her own by using smell.
A study published in The American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology in 2004 that found
that the innate immune proteins found in vernix and amniotic fluid are similar to those found in breast milk. As the baby prepares for extrauterine life, pulmonary surfactant (a substance produced by the maturing fetal lungs) increases in the amniotic fluid, resulting in the detachment of vernix from the skin. The vernix mixes with the amniotic fluid and is swallowed by the growing fetus. Given the antimicrobial properties of this mixture, the authors conclude that there is “considerable functional and structural synergism between the prenatal biology of vernix caseosa and the postnatal biology of breast milk.
Rather than bathing the newborn immediately after birth (routine practice in the hospital), moms should rub that wonderful vernix caseosa into baby's skin!