Wait! Don’t Wash That Newborn!

When I had my daughter, I made sure that the hospital staff did not give her a bath. I had done my research and learned that the vernix offers so many benefits and protection to a newborn, thus, why the baby is born covered in it to begin with. The vernix needs time to be absorbed into the baby’s skin; it is the best form of moisturizer that, unfortunately, money can’t buy! This combined with the fact that a newborn is not born dirty (contrary to popular belief) and the fact that he/she doesn’t need any type of chemical/additives that may be in what the hospital uses to bathe him/her are the reasons I wanted to wait and bathe my daughter at home. If you doubt my claim that babies are being washed with harsher soaps, please note that many hospitals use regular soap, and others use the wipes found through this link – I have not been able to find the ingredients to these, but, based on what I have found, they don’t look to be what I consider non-toxic by any means! Sage Cleansing Washcloths and one hospital’s take on bath wash: Parkland Memorial.

That being said, when I read Jennifer Azzariti’s article on Eco18.com about the importance of the vernix, I wanted to share it with you all. Both she and Eco18 graciously let me repost her article here! This is a shortened version. You can read her whole article on Eco18.com

WAIT! DON’T WASH THAT NEWBORN!

A Guest post by Jennifer Azzariti

Have you ever watched a television show where a baby is born and laughed as they hand the new mom a clean, approximately 8-week old baby? Most people are well-aware that babies are born with a slimy mucus-like covering on them. For years I just assumed it was from being inside of the mom’s uterus—leftover amniotic fluid or something that surrounded the baby while in utero. Well, this stuff has a name—vernix. And by definition, it’s “a white cheeselike protective material that covers the skin of a fetus.” But, what is it, and why do babies have it?

Vernix is produced during the third trimester and it provides a temporary skin barrier for the watery environment babies live in while in utero. According toCosmetics & Toiletries Sciences Applied, the prenatal functions of vernix include:” waterproofing, since due to the low surface energy, vernix caseosa is highly unwettable; the facilitation of the skin formation in utero; and protection of the fetus from acute or sub-acute chorioamnionitis (an inflammation of the outer (chorion) and inner (amnion) fetal membranes due to a bacterial infection). During delivery, vernix caseosa acts as a lubricant while postnatally, it exhibits antioxidant, skin cleansing, temperature-regulating and antibacterial properties.”

Proven to have such great benefits postnatally, it makes you wonder why we are in such a rush to give newborns their first bath—removing the vernix.

Modern science and Western Medicine recognizes the benefits of vernix. A study regarding the significance of vernix was published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, 191 (6), 2090-2096, titled: Antimocrobial Properties of Amniotic Fluid and Vernix Caseosa are Similar to Those Found in Breast Milk. This study revealed that a number of immune substances were present in both amniotic fluid and vernix samples. Tests using antimicrobial growth inhibition essays show these substances are effective at deterring  the growth of common perinatal pathogens— group B. Streptococcus, K. pneumoniae, L. monocytogenes, C. albicans and E. coli.

Results from this study brought into question the practices commonly used when treating newborns. The study suggests that baby’s first bath should be delayed until at least twenty-four hours after birth. The Department of Health in conjunction with the World Health Association has set-forth a protocol for newborns, and in the section regarding thorough immediate drying of the baby (0-3 minutes after birth), it says “Do not wipe off vernix,” and “Do not bathe the newborn.”  The protocol later states that you should wait at least six hours to wash the baby.

When you have a baby, it’s important to discuss your wishes with not only your physician, but also your entire care staff at the hospital where you deliver your baby. Make sure your partner is aware of your wishes, because if you’re like I was, you will be so caught up in pushing out a baby and the excitement that goes along with it, that postponing the first bath could easily slip your mind. If I were to have another child, I would inquire as to what the hospital’s protocol is. Whatever you do, make sure your wishes are known by everyone who will come into contact with your little one.

So, the next time you have a baby, let the hospital staff know you’d like to “Keep the vernix now, clean the baby later!”

FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT THE WONDERS OF THE VERNIX, READ DAWN’S NOTES FOUND AFTER ‘ABOUT THE AUTHOR.’

About the author: A once working mother of two young children, Jennifer had an ah-ha moment and put her professional career on hold shortly before the birth of her daughter.  Shifting her focus to being a stay-at-home mom, Jennifer’s communication and research talents could not be suppressed. She has been successfully transforming her family’s lifestyle into a greener one and helping other moms take “green baby steps” too. Raised in Central New York, Jennifer now calls Long Island her home, but still holds true to many of the ideals instilled upon her growing up in a more rural area. You can contact her at jferris38@hotmail.com.

A side note from Dawn: When posting this I wanted to do a bit more digging and stumbled across this – a conversation of sorts between nurses questioning when the first bath should be given. I was surprised to see that baths are sometimes given at certain times based on the baby’s condition. For instance, if their temperature is of a certain range, they get a bath sooner than later. If not, they wait on the bath because of the danger it may pose to the baby. Not once in these conversations did I see mention of the importance of the vernix or the fact that it acts as a temperature regulator. From talking with nurses, it seems they aren’t taught about the vernix in school (at least the ones I have had conversations with)! This information made me think – another reason to delay the first bath! (I personally believe that a bath should not happen until the baby is at least a week old. The body needs its natural oils and a newborn’s skin is so delicate!) Timing of Newborn Bath

Another great resource – Benefits of Vernix – it’s amazing stuff (and here’s the scientific research to prove it) 

About Raising Natural Kids

A mother of two looking to raise awareness about the everyday issues that parents face, focusing on raising children holistically.
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82 Responses to Wait! Don’t Wash That Newborn!

  1. Daizee Ann says:

    We waited three weeks, using a gentle organic diaper area wash after changes and coconut oil all over everyday. Her skin was in such good shape and now at almost two is so beautiful and never dry (and shes super healthy).

  2. Manda says:

    Dawn, nurses do learn about vernix during their training. However, they may not learn about its many benefits. And if they then choose to work on labour wards after they complete their training and still aren’t taught, then that reflects badly on their place of work (I would hope they’d be interested enough in their specialty that they’d research things like this on their own though)… :/

    • HI! Thanks for the response! Yes, I am surprised at how many people (nurses) don’t know about the benefits – and I don’t think it has anything to do with them at all – has to do with their training. Both hospitals I gave birth at didn’t seem to know. I have read stories of mothers telling the nurses and the nurses being amazed. Since this post, there have been a couple of people on facebook who have said that their nurses did know, which is great!

      • Michelle says:

        I am a L&D nurse and educate my patients daily about the benefits of vernix! Unfortunately, when working for an organization it is up to you, the patient, to refuse procedures such as the bath. So if you do not tell me no, I have to follow protocol.

      • Lia Madison says:

        My nurse told me about not bathing my baby after he was born, i was so thankful that she gave me that information after i requested him to be bathed. So i waited till he was about 3 weeks till i gave him his first bath, there are nurses that give that information and it makes me more thankful that they do share that well some of them.

  3. celestine warbeck says:

    We do know what vernix is and what it does, but we don’t set the policies at our hospitals. Also, most moms are obsessed with that first bath. Also, an unbathed baby is considered “dirty” ie has amniotic fluid & blood on it, which means it can’t be touched by nurses, doctors, etc. without gloves to comply with OSHA standards regarding exposure to bodily fluids.
    Even the Johnson & Johnson rep who held a seminar on their soap mentioned the benefits of vernix! (doesn’t stop them from providing it for first baths, though…)

    • Hi Celestine! That’s awesome to hear to some nurses are being taught about the benefits of the vernix, esp. after having so many tell me they didn’t know. I am aware that nurses have to wear gloves until the baby is clean and to a small extent, I get why. But, from the point of view of a mother, I want what’s best for my baby and am not thinking of anyone else – I would think that with the more recent findings and the protocol set forth by The Department of Health in conjunction with the World Health Association, that nurses would now have to be taught and that the polices would have to change, being that the new protocol states to wait to wash the baby for at least 6 hours (I have no idea whether this protocol has to be in place or not). Also, when it comes down to it, a hospital is a business and the mother and baby are the clients. What’s best for the newborn client is to have what he/she was rightfully and purposely born with left to absorb into the skin, so in my mind, that’s what should be done. Interesting that Johnson and Johnson mentioned the benefits – did they say why the use formaldehyde in products? (LOL – sorry, not a fan :) )

      • Jenn Blixt says:

        I’m an LDRP RN as well and Celeste is exactly right. There are many things we are required to do by policy, even when our own knowledge and intuition disagree. There is a wide range of what is desired, not just amongst MDs and hospitals, but patient preference as well. Some are educated and open minded, many are not. Many “customers” want healthy, natural, research based options, such as yourself, but just as many “customers” want “artificial”, “no pain, no matter what”, “no I don’t have a birth plan, didn’t even take childbirth classes, just do what the doctor says” kind of care. Sad, but true. So changing policy is not as easy as one may think when so few agree on best practice. OB has always been political. That being said, keep trying for the ideal!

      • Brie says:

        AMEN sister!!

      • Makeena adkins says:

        Should one not wash there newborns hair either. What exactly should be used to clean your baby. I always believed u shouldn’t was your baby right away but I had that epidural and what ever else it was they gave me that I was to out of it to say anything. Now all of my children has eczama but my youngest, my daughter has it the worst. She even has in in her hair. Her hair grows but comes out even faster. Her scalp is so dry it bleeds sometime. I have to oil her scalp more then 3 times a day so how do u clean your newborns body and hair. My next child I will have natural and I would like to have a water birth. I want to do it right the next time.

  4. Becky says:

    All my babies (4) have had the bath right away after birth. I didn’t learn about the benefits of waiting until several months ago. With out next baby we will not be letting them bathe him/her.

  5. Interesting, thanks for sharing. I instictively (or lazily) didn’t wash my babies for weeks, and then just water and cotton wool, followed by a lovely all over massage with grapeseed oil.

    The 3 of them are lucky if they get bathed once a week now! Maybe that’s laziness too, but my insticts tell me it’s not good for their skin to bath them too often.

  6. Pingback: Vernix and Bathing Baby | Natural Birth St. George

  7. jen says:

    do we know what would happen if someone had groupB strep, or an STD such as genital warts or herpes, what would happen if they didnt bathe the baby immediately after?

    • I can look into that – those are things that in almost all cases, as long as the person had prenatal care, that are known beforehand, so it’s not like the a baby could be contaminated with something and no one would know.

    • Vernix has antibacterial and anti fungal properties. I would imagine that if the mother has groupB strep or an STD and didn’t bathe the baby immediately that the vernix would serve as protection to the baby, though that protection would not be foolproof. However, bathing a baby immediately would offer no protection to the baby from groupB strep or STDs.

    • Kari says:

      I had GBS, and I didn’t wash my baby. I didn’t get any treatment because she came so quickly (woke up, called the midwife, husband and mother in law half an hour later, meet the husband and midwife at the door with the baby in my arm, not even a full hour after waking up, mother-in-law showed up not to soon after them). Anyway, she ended up with a group b strep infection, and had started to show signs of it at over 12 hours old.

  8. Leci Parker says:

    Johnson and Johnson use formaldehyde in there products? Where did you find this information? What products would you suggest using?

  9. Natalie says:

    I’ve had 4 babies (homebirths) and none of my babies have been born with any visible vernix, besides behind their ears…. I was there when my siblings were born, and some of them had it, while some didn’t. Nonetheless, we never washed the babies for a couple of days at least… nothing more than a gentle rub with a cotton blanket just to dry them off and get any blood off them.

  10. Maureen says:

    I had looked into this after my sister gave birth in the UK. They strongly discouraged giving the baby a bath before the cord fell off, and only wiped her off after birth. I had my son 5 weeks ago, and in trying to figure out what I would want to do I just found myself confused. Is the vernix the slimy substance that is all over them from the womb, or is it something else. They wiped him off, and when I got to the postpartum room 2 hours later the nurse went to give him a bath right away. Exhausted and out of it at that point I told her I may not want the bath because of the vernix. She just said she wasn’t going to scrub it off. So I just went with the flow, could anyone offer some explanation so I can be more prepared the next time around? I’m also receiving conflicting opinions about putting things on baby. The hospital staff advised not to use lotions or oils that could clog babies skin, but many are describing dousing their babies in different oils, suggestions?

  11. no says:

    Sorry but leaving that “cheeselike” substance on a newborn just sounds freaking gross. Can def see why you shouldnt use soap on a newborn but dont think water will hurt.

    • it’s not about water hurting, it’s about the benefits of leaving the vernix on, which disappears by itself very quickly. Because it offers so many benefits to the baby, including protection from bacteria, one would think any parent would leave it on knowing it’s a natural substance that offers protection.

  12. Valerie says:

    In nature, the mother cleans the kittens or puppies right after birth by licking off the vernix. If we were meant to keep it on, why do amimals remove it?

  13. julie says:

    I find this article very interesting. I appreciate the many comments. This article leaves me with several lingering questions: 1) when immediate bathing became protocol 2) if there is any correlation with when immediate bathing began and when eczema began increasing and 3) if there is any correlation with the loss of this natural protective barrier & antimicrobial properties & the increase of food allergies. Maybe that’s a far stretch though.

    • Alisha says:

      I wondered the same thing Julie, and I began reading this article because all three of my children at some point have had excema. Of couse, after reading this I really have come to the conclusion that leaving the vernix on isn’t a prevention for excema. My oldest child was born with no complications, and was bathed the same day of birth. He developed excema just weeks after birth, and by the time he was 2yrs. the skin condition never flared up again. My second child, was born 4 wks early, with pneumonia , and wasn’t bathed until she was at least 5 days old. She developed excema, within her first month, and still at 14yrs. old has problems with excema seasonally. My third was 3 wks. early, with complications due to having air pockets in his lungs, bathed on day 6, and at almost 7 yrs old still has excema flare ups, especially in the winter time. So, according to my children, I don’t think that keeping the vernix in place could have decreased our chances of having this skin disorder.

  14. raena750 says:

    Hello, I just wanted to make sure I understand this right so I am clear on what I want at the hospital.. When the baby is born, don’t wash the baby. Wipe away any blood and/or meconium, but don’t wipe off the vernix. Wait at minimum 24 hours (up to a week) to wash the baby with a natural soap such as a lavender rinse.

    When they wipe away the blood and meconium is it with a dry towel or do you wet the towel in some warm water?

    Thank you!
    Raena

  15. Afton says:

    Hospital practice in Queensland, Australia, is not to bathe babies (nor that horrific ubiquitous American practice of appling Erythromycin eye ointment either, horror of horrors). Ours didn’t have his first bath (basically just a warm floaty experience, no soap), until after his stump fell off. He didn’t really have any obvious vernix, none-the-less, after about a week he had what appeared to be dry flakey skin, this was in fact the (invisible) layer of vernix finally drying/friction out/off. During this time his nappy area was just washed with soothing warm running water under the tap (to avoid friction caused by wiping), this also seems an enjoyable experience, judging by his facial expressions. Initially we did use Lansinoh HPA (great for bottoms, some oils contain too much vitamin A) to prevent the merconium (which sticks like tar, 24hrs in our case, most are a few days) from adhering to his delicate skin.

    Incidentally, my mother did the same with me, as did my grandmother & great grandmother. We all roomed-in with our newborns, breastfed, slept with our babies on a separate surface, carried our babies … so none of this is new. Did you know, a study in 1944 advised against prone sleeping! Nobody listened. One needs to follow one’s instincts, they are all different, but your instincts are what is best for you.

    PS re lavender, read up, lavender soaps, shampoo have been implicated in endocrine disruption ie feminising males, and possible adverse affect on females … avoid.

  16. Catrin smart says:

    @No….’cheese like’ Is only a description of it! It’s not gross at all and feels like the most soft, velvet like substance you can imagine. It’s doesn’t smell horrible and magically disappears into the baby and yours skin leaving it unimaginably soft. I’ve never found a moisturiser that makes my skin feel anything like as wonderfully soft as it did after my vernix covered 2nd daughter had lain on me for a couple of hours.

  17. Pingback: 5 Standard Newborn Procedures You Can Refuse {Green in 365: Baby & Child Care}

  18. C. H. says:

    My daughter was born at home yesterday. The midwife did not wash her, just wiped her with a cotton blanket. Today she smelled very sour and there was vernix caked in her armpits and groin. I used warm water to wipe these areas today and she smells better, but there is still some vernix there. Should I just keep doing this with her if it starts to smell again until we are ready for a first bath?

    • I am not sure what the smell is, as I haven’t heard of this, nor smelled it myself before, so I am not sure what to tell you! Congrats on the baby!

    • Shesha says:

      sour milk? If she spit up or got milk dripped on her it can sour

    • Leelee says:

      Could it be yeast? Not too sure if babies can be born with yeast on them or how long it would take to grow but my daughter had yeast in her armpits within the first week after she was born and yes it smelled bad, like dirty feet.

  19. michellerobin1979 says:

    Great article, I am so glad to have found this information!!!

    I am curious if anyone in the states has been denied this request by a hospital?

  20. isla says:

    I have 3 children and out of the 3 my middle one was washed immediately after birth. I did not realize the afterbirth benefits vernix would have on the baby until reading this article now. My middle child suffered from severe eczema the first few months of her life. It wasn’t until she turned 2 that it started to go away completely. It makes me wonder if bathing her too soon could’ve been one of many reasons why she got it. My oldest and youngest both have beautiful, hydrated skin. If I only knew then. But that shows the differences in knowledge and belief in nurses, 2/3 chose not to bath my kids after delivery.

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  22. Pingback: Baby's First Bath and the Protective Benefits of Vernix | Parenting Patch

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  24. Ali says:

    That was reason #548 :) why we did home birth! It was awesome and we were definitely told not to bathe them until a certain day after birth (my brain is teen-fried now instead of baby-fried so that detail has left). To me it was similar to not cutting the cord until the blood had balanced between placenta and newborn. Hospitals have a strict policy of cutting it immediately like it’s an infectious substance and wash newborns like they are born covered in filth! :)

  25. Bryony Morris says:

    When I gave birth to my now 15 month old the hospital (Lincolnshire County) Wouldn’t let us bath her until we got home (we were in for 3 days) and advised us to use only water until she was at least one month old. I had no idea why but now so glad I followed their advice now!

  26. Penny says:

    I used to be a newborn nursery nurse and we washed babies as soon as their bodies were warm enough to bathe. I can understand if you are having a home birth and don’t want to wash your baby right away. But we averaged 20-30 babies daily, and yes, many of the mothers had some type of infection or ‘just didn’t smell too good’. If we didn’t wash those babies, I can only imagine what the nursery would have smelled like. And at night time, a lot of the mothers didn’t want to room with their babies, so we would get to feed them and rock them during the night. It was the sweetest job ever; but I wouldn’t have thought so if they hadn’t been washed. ha ha

    • ellahalligan says:

      I’m glad you said “used to be”… keeping the baby in the nursery overnight and “feeding” it is horrible! I will certainly take a baby into the nursery for a few hours for a completely exhausted mom… but when that little one is hungry it is back to mom for breastfeeding!

      • 50andliving says:

        No need to be ‘testy’ Ellahalligan. I was and am ‘still’ a very good nurse. I worked in a high risk nursery (not a birthing center where every mom was a good mom) and most of our mom’s did not want to room with their babies. Very few breast feeders. Remember, not every situation in nursing is textbook and not every baby born is wanted by their mom. Somebody has to rock and yes, FEED those babies, too.

      • Makeena adkins says:

        I so agree! I don’t know of any hospital that would keep the babies in the nursery for all that time. The baby need to get to know his/her mother and the mother need to get used to caring for that child. I wanted all three of my babies with me at all times. I can remember when I was having complications wit my left kidney and they had me on drugs after having my baby, then and only then did I ask them to take my baby so I can rest for an hr. But other times when they wanted to keep taking my baby to the nursery for whatever reason, u better believe I was right behind them or had someone that was there with me to go if I couldn’t?

  27. Bri says:

    I remember the moment my baby girl came out like it was yesterday, but she didn’t have any vernix left on her. She was a week late and almost 9lbs. The nurses told me it comes off when the baby is developed enough, so they gave her a bath.

  28. I only allowed them to wash my baby off with water, since I bled a lot and she was covered in blood. No soap at all until my daughter started getting body odor when she was about 6 months old, and even then, I use organic, chemical free soap.

  29. Katie says:

    Great article. My midwives recommend to wait until your milk has fully come in so with both girls waited til day 4…other then it being a little caky in their hair on day 1 and 2 (absorbed into the scalp after that) they smelled delicious and were so soft. Neither had dry flaky skin, baby acne or cradle cap and I think they delayed bathing is why!

  30. Joe says:

    Is the Vernix lost in a water birth?

  31. Would the Vernix be lost during a water birth?

  32. Amber says:

    I waited 10 days, but never thought anything of it till reading this article. People always ask me why my daughter’s skin is so soft!!!

  33. ellahalligan says:

    Another nurse here… I’m a nursery nurse, but I attend every birth in our hospital that happens on my shifts and it is a part of my “job” to give that first bath. I echo the sentiments of the rest of the nurses… we don’t set policy. Please, it’s up to the moms to put in writing that they don’t want their baby bathed! I’m glad you’re getting the word out about how unnecessary it is in most cases. (If baby comes out stained greenish yellow from a traumatic birth that caused massive amounts of meconium in the water then yes, bathing is a good idea. Even then it shouldn’t happen until baby’s temperature is stable, which happens best if baby is left skin to skin with mommy for at LEAST one hour post birth.

    There are a LOT of things that are hospital protocol that we, as nurses, don’t have a say in. Speak up! Your nurse will either love you for it or learn from you!

    • AMA says:

      So true @ellahalligan. You have to make your wishes known. We have had a birth plan written out for all 3 of our births and all of our nurses have been wonderful and very respectful of the way we wanted to do things. Even if they didn’t necessarily agree or understand with our reasons. :-)

  34. Motley says:

    Hi and thank you! , I heard before of the benefits of the vernix to the immune system. I read a book that said that also afterwards the only things a babys skin should meet is loving warm persons skin, blanket, air and water. (And a little sun, while not too much of course – common sense) It was absolutelly against soap “for what should a baby need soap?” it was also much against unnessessary clothing – exept for temperature and a cloth diaper (not sure about that word – not a mother tonge) … it sure was an “hardliner revolutionary” book, for it was from the laste sixties. but / and I really like it actually (I have no children yet). not a question that everyone has to make his/her own decisions about all that. I’m very interested, new to your page (i’m from facebook) and I like my sofar impressions of it. props! Best regards, Nina/Motley

  35. lindascharff says:

    Perhaps if the vernix were also left on the baby’s head for a while there would be little or no cradle cap problems!

  36. Randi says:

    Had a water birth almost 11 years ago and was informed by my doula and mid wife about vernix. I took our son home and waited 24 hrs before bathing him….great website

  37. Manda says:

    In Australia we recommend to parents to wait a minimum of 24 hours before washing their baby and we use baby safe ‘soap’ and wipes, Johnson & Johnson Top-to-Toe soap free wash and wipes. :)

  38. My son passed meconium, and was covered in it, (it was under his mails, in his ears, in his hair – thankfully he didn’t aspirated any) so with my permission was given a bath. When meconium is present and the baby is coated in it, it isn’t very pleasant, to be honest.

  39. nouvellemere says:

    For many many reasons, I am so happy that I gave birth in Canada and not in the U.S. In the hospital I was, we stayed 48h after the delivery. They showed me how to give my baby 1st bath more than 24h after the delivery. They asked me to not try to remove the vernix and since I had a baby girl, they specifically told me not to remove / wash the vernix off her vagina.

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  41. I included this post in my monthly round up of reads. Thank you for a well written article! http://thepierogiemama.blogspot.com/2013/10/monthly-its-octoer.html

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  44. I love this post, I haven’t heard of this before. Thanks so much for sharing, I will be sure to remember this with our next baby! I would love it if you shared this at my new linky party: http://www.joyfocusedlearning.com/2013/11/anything-goes-link-up-1.html

  45. Pingback: Our Birth Plan

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  48. Christine Stu says:

    What is the protocol as far as herbal baths for baby after birth? My son took an herbal bath from my midwife twice daily for the first 3 days after birth, as well as I did with him. He was born at 38 weeks and there was only vernix in the crease of his legs. Does the water disrupt how the cervix protects their skin?

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