You might not spend much time thinking about the umbilical cord but it's one of nature's triumphs.
Approximately 50cm of tissue connects your baby to the placenta, an organ you grew especially to nourish your baby in utero.
The umbilical cord often gets a few minutes attention after the birth and then is forgotten.
Umbilical Cord Stump – 5 Tips On Caring For Your Baby's Cord Stump
When your baby is born, the cord attached to your baby's tummy can look like a lumpy, blue-tinged rope.
Ideally the umbilical cord is left intact until it has stopped pulsating and providing much needed nutrients and oxygen to your baby.
Once the cord has been cut, your newborn will be left with a small, purplish stump. This stump will fall off at some stage in the next weeks, although it can remain for up to two months.
During this stage, it's important to look after the area to avoid infection and irritation.
Here are 5 tips to follow to protect your baby's umbilical cord stump from infection:
#1: Keep It Clean
You need to keep the stump area clean to avoid infection. Before touching the stump make sure you have washed your hands.
If you need to clean the stump area, you can use plain water on cotton wool or a soft washer. You don't need to use a cleanser and it's no longer recommended to use antiseptics or alcohol, as these can cause irritation.
#2: Air It
The stump will shrivel and turn black, before dropping off. To speed up this process, exposing the stump to air will help.
Folding your baby's nappy down under the stump will expose it to air, even if covered with loose cotton clothing.
If you are enjoying lots of skin to skin time with your newborn, the stump will be exposed to the air as well.
#3: Protect It
Try to ensure your baby's nappies and clothes aren't rubbing the stump, as this can cause irritation.
Many newborn disposable nappies have a space to allow for the stump in the front. Modern cloth nappies can be adjusted for newborns, to prevent rubbing.
Try to keep the stump from coming in contact with urine or poo. This is easier said than done! If you have a little boy, you should position his penis so it is pointing down in the nappy to try and prevent the stump from getting covered in urine.
If the area does get covered in wee or poo, make sure you clean it as soon as possible.
#4: Leave It Alone
The stump will take on average about two weeks to dry up and fall off. Sometimes it can take a little longer, but as long as the area remains free from infection, this shouldn't be a problem.
Never pick, rub or pull on the stump. Allow it to come away naturally in it's own time.
Newborns don't need to be bathed frequently in the first few weeks after birth. It's best to avoid using soaps and lotions on their delicate skin, as well as allowing any vernix to soak in.
It's fine to get your baby's stump wet, this will not cause an infection or slow the healing process. Or you can top and tail your baby using a warm, damp washer.
Make sure after washing your baby, you gently pat the stump with a soft, dry towel. Keep your baby warm for some nappy free time while the stump dries properly.
When To Call The Doctor
When the stump falls off, the area may look red, raw or appear to be oozing fluid.
This is all normal and will disappear within a week to 10 days. You may see some blood on your baby's nappy during this time. The area may look like it has pus or is a bit mucky, which doesn't necessarily mean there's an infection.
Ask your care provider, baby nurse or midwife to check your baby's stump if you're concerned at all.
If you notice any of the following symptoms, see your care provider, as it could mean the stump has become infected:
- Your baby has a fever, loses interest in feeding, or is lethargic
- The area surrounding the stump appears red, swollen and warm
- The area is oozing yellow or green pus
- Continuous bleeding from the stump
- A foul odour coming from the stump.
Sometimes the area takes longer to heal and can look sore and open. Your care provider may decide to seal the stump area, in a process called cauterisation. This is a simple procedure using silver nitrate which can be done in your doctor's clinic. It won't cause your baby any pain.