You might not spend much time thinking about the umbilical cord but it’s one of nature’s triumphs.
A tube-like structure of approximately 50cm, the umbilical cord connects your baby to the placenta. The umbilical cord is an organ you grew especially to nourish your baby in utero.
The umbilical cord often gets a few minutes’ attention after the birth and is then forgotten.
Let’s have a look at some facts and tips about caring for your newborn’s umbilical cord stump.
Umbilical cord stump | 7 tips on caring for your baby’s cord stump
When your baby is born, the umbilical 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.
During this stage, it’s important to look after the area to avoid infection and irritation.
Here are 7 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.
#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 it’s covered with loose cotton clothing.
If you are enjoying skin-to-skin time with your newborn, the stump will be exposed to the air then as well.
#3: Protect it
Try to prevent your baby’s nappies and clothes from 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 into 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 to 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 fall off naturally, in its own time.
Newborns don’t need to be bathed frequently in the first few weeks after birth. Avoid using soaps and lotions on their delicate skin.
It’s fine to get your baby’s stump wet in tub baths; this will not cause an infection or slow the healing process. Alternatively, you can sponge bath your baby, using a warm, damp washer.
After washing your baby, make sure you gently pat the stump with a soft, dry towel. Keep your baby warm for some nappy free time while the stump dries properly.
#6: Belly button stump stages
From birth until the complete stump fall occurs there are several stages your baby’s umbilical cord stump goes through:
- White and soft. Your baby’s umbilical cord remains soft and white for just a few hours after the cord is clamped or after it has stopped pulsating. Place it upwards, if possible outside the baby’s diaper. That way it will dry off as far away as possible from the diaper
- Dark and dry. The umbilical cord stump will very soon dry off. When it loses its moisture, just a few hours after birth, it dries off and it becomes a thin, hard stump
- Semi-detached cord. Most cords begin detaching just a few days after birth. Every time you change your child’s diaper, be careful not to catch the stump, as any direct pressure applied could cause pain to your little one. Don’t pull on the cord, even if you see it’s almost detached. Just let it be until it eventually falls off naturally.
#7: Baby’s umbilical cord stump do’s and don’ts for parents
- Parents were once instructed to put a few drops of alcohol around the umbilical cord stump after every diaper change, to keep the cord dry. Research has shown that rubbing alcohol as part of routine umbilical cord care makes the drying process last longer and also kills important bacteria that help the natural healing process
- Keep it dry, which means just clean it and let it be
- Don’t pull on it. The umbilical cord falls naturally on its own. The best cord care is to let it be and remove any dirt when present.
When to call the doctor
When the umbilical stump falls off, the area might look red, raw, or appear to be oozing fluid.
This is normal and will clear up in about a week to 10 days. You might see some blood on your baby’s nappy during this time. The area might look as though it has pus or is a bit mucky, but this doesn’t necessarily mean there’s an infection.
Call your baby’s doctor, child and family nurse, or midwife to check your baby’s stump if you’re at all concerned.
If you notice any of the following symptoms, contact your baby’s provider, as it could mean your baby’s belly button has become infected:
- Your baby has a fever, loses interest in feeding, or is lethargic
- The area surrounding the belly button appears red, swollen, and warm
- The area is oozing yellowish-green pus
- There is continuous bleeding from the belly button
- A foul odor is coming from the belly button.
Sometimes the area takes longer to heal and can look sore and open. As part of your baby’s umbilical cord care, your care provider might decide to seal the umbilical stump area, in a process called cauterization. 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.
How do I clean my baby’s belly button after the cord falls off?
About one to three weeks after your baby’s birth is the time when her umbilical cord stump will fall off. Most cords usually fall during the first ten days after birth, fully showing your baby’s belly button.
Once the stump falls, all you need to do regarding umbilical care is to keep the area clean and dry.
Umbilical cord complications
Although a newborn’s umbilical cord stump doesn’t require a lot of care, there are some umbilical cord symptoms that could require special attention as a complication may arise.
An umbilical granuloma usually looks worse than it actually is. It can show as white or pink scar tissue. Contact your baby’s doctor or healthcare provider, who will be able to tell you how to proceed. Make sure to leave the area outside the baby’s diaper. Try to use appropriate baby clothes that allow you to leave the umbilical cord scar out to dry.
Umbilical cord infection
Sometimes the baby’s cord site appears infected. That means it might have some yellowish green cloudy discharge and a bad smell. Probably your baby cries when you manipulate the site. Keep the stump clean and dry, avoid covering it and contact your baby’s pediatrician for advice.
Some infants might develop an umbilical hernia. This happens because the abdominal wall around the umbilical site is quite weak and some of the intestine might protrude through the thin abdominal wall. Your doctor will be able to advise on how to proceed with this.
You can read more in BellyBelly’s article Umbilical Cord Care For Your Newborn’s Stump.