One thing that has been especially entertaining about my pregnancy is watching my husband’s ideas of childbirth become completely shattered. I can’t really blame him- when your only exposure to birth is movies where women’s water breaks in the grocery store with a dramatic flood, birth happens, and they are handed a perfectly-colored six month old baby, learning about how birth ACTUALLY happens can come as quite a shock.
I’ll never forget sitting in one of our first birth classes a few months back. We watched an empowering film of a natural water birth, at the end of which the mother pulls up a tiny blue baby covered in thick, white goop. Everyone ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs’ as the teacher shuts off the film- the women, that is. All the dads in the room are stunned to silence, until one finally pipes up:
“Is that baby supposed to look like that? That baby was as blue as a smurf!”
Another dad: “Yeah, and what was that gunk all over it?”
And so began the fathers’ education in natural childbirth. Though I did understand the blueness (and tininess) of the baby, I did find myself wondering about that white stuff. What was it’s purpose? If a baby is born with it, should we get rid of it?
In short, no! Babies build up this beautiful, nutritious coating called the vernix while they are in the womb. It not only helps to keep them warm, but helps protect their bodies from getting all pruney from their amniotic fluid. In addition, the vernix has immunity-building properties, which help protect the baby after birth. It is also moisturizing and soothing for the skin, which is being exposed to air and strange fabrics for the first time. Perhaps most amazingly of all, the vernix actually helps the baby regulate their own body temperature- something everyone seems to be concerned about with a newborn!
So this stuff is great, but what do with it? Rub it in as much as possible! Don’t wash it off of your baby- instead, help the baby soak up those great immunity and skin protecting benefits.
Some other reasons to delay baby’s first bath:
…messes with the baby’s body temperature
…can interrupt the bonding process between mom and baby, particularly if done by someone else
…can elevate baby’s blood pressure and trigger stress hormones
How long until I get a squeaky clean baby? This is really up to you. Generally, it’s suggested to wait at least 24 hours in order to allow for good bonding to be established with mama and for the benefits of the vernix to soak into baby’s skin. The birth center we are using doesn’t even routinely give baths- they say that’s mama’s job at home in a few days! However, it isn’t uncommon for some families to wait a week or longer before bathing baby- and then, they will only bathe baby with water. Really, you have to decide what you are comfortable with and what is best for you and your little one!