Saturday, April 16, 2011


Vernix covering the face of a precious newborn baby

After every birth I find something of value upon which to reflect. It may be something unexpected, or it may have been the ordinary-ness of the whole event. Ordinary, yet extra-ordinary. It may have been something about myself, and my personal ability to fulfil the role of midwife. And my reflective review may take place at several different levels.

I love returning to homes as midwife for the second time, and more. It's a wonderfully privileged place for me. The mother knows me, and I know her, in a deeper way than the first time 'round.

The picture in my mind now is a mother whose second baby is nursing contentedly, naked against her warm, naked breast. It's a mild autumn day outside, with some light rain, and occasional sunshine. We are in the bright, airy room that is a closed-in verandah at the rear of the house. The setup is very much the same as it was three years ago when this mother gave birth for the first time.

I had been called out a few hours earlier, and had worked with the mother; my few words and actions being carefully chosen to act in hamony with the wonderful natural process that was progressing and unfolding. But that's another story. Today I am thinking about vernix. The little one of today's reflection was born with thick slathers of the white creamy substance on her back, and sizeable globs of it in the water of the birthing pool.

I know I'm not the only midwife who is fascinated by, and has a special love for, vernix. Not the vernix on the baby's skin. That stays there, and has often disappeared, apparently absorbed by the baby's and mother's skin, when we take another look at the baby after a couple of hours. Water birth has made the vernix that has separated from the baby more accessible than it used to be. The vernix in waterbirth floats to the surface of the water, while in conventional births this vernix ends up on the absorbant under-sheet with amniotic fluid, blood, and anything else that issued from the mother's body at the time of birth.

I don't know if it's an old wives' tale, but I heard a long time ago that midwives in France would collect vernix for use in the cosmetic industry. A blob of vernix is, to me, an attractive little bonus to glean when all the hard work of birthing has been done. I scoop up a bit of it, and apply it, usually to my arms. A few years ago I was conscious of a small scaly patch of skin that had been for some time on my forehead, and I rubbed vernix into it. Having grown up in the Queensland sub-tropics, sun exposure has left my skin with some damage. The skin healed over soon after.

It's likely that any readers who are interested enough to read a post about vernix will also use an internet search engine and see what comes up. That's how I came upon a very interesting, comprehensive paper:

Vernix Caseosa: The Ultimate Natural Cosmetic?
By: Johann W. Wiechers, PhD, JW Solutions; and Bernard Gabard, PhD, Iderma
Posted: August 31, 2009, from the September 2009 issue of Cosmetics & Toiletries.

The authors of this paper also state that "rumor has it that midwives apply some of the vernix caseosa they remove to their own hands, rendering them soft and well-hydrated."

Your comments are, as always, welcome.

1 comment:

  1. A touchy subject, I know, but I have to wonder if some parties may have a vested interest in obtaining the vernix caseosa of aborted fetuses for use in cosmetics etc?

    I have yet to find evidence of this, but I am sure it's somewhere.


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