Disclaimer: The following is not intended for medical advice and is presented for informational purposes only. Always consult with a pediatrician for your baby’s health care.
While the freshly cut umbilical cord can look a bit scary, caring for the little stump is actually quite straightforward. We’re here to walk you through all you need to know about safely caring for your baby’s brand-new belly button and what remains of their umbilical cord after their birth.
Umbilical Cord Care for Your Baby: The Basics
The umbilical cord is your baby’s hookup for nutrients and oxygen as they grow and develop in their mother’s womb. It connects from a woman’s uterus to the baby’s bellybutton and is the main way the baby receives nutrients and blood from the mother.
When a baby is delivered, the umbilical cord is quickly clamped and then cut from the placenta. Some families may choose to let their baby remain attached to the umbilical cord for a short period of time in a process known as delayed cord clamping, which research has shown provides numerous health benefits, especially for preterm infants.
Some parents might also choose to save the blood from their baby’s placenta and umbilical cord through cord blood banking. Regardless of what you choose to do with your baby, they umbilical cord will be cut off quickly after they are born, and a small portion of the umbilical cord, referred to as a “stump,” will be left behind on your baby.
As the newborn’s caregiver, your primary job is keeping the stump of the umbilical cord clean and dry, according to the World Health Organization’s recommendations. There is no need to use the old advice of utilizing alcohol to clean the stump, as pediatricians now believe that it can delay the healing process.
It is currently recommended that you leave the stump to heal on its own. With proper care, the stump will fall off on its own in a few weeks.
“It is currently recommended that you leave the stump to heal on its own. With proper care, the stump will fall off on its own in a few weeks."
How to Take Care of Your Baby’s Umbilical Cord
In addition to the critical task of keeping the umbilical cord stump clean and dry, there are a few other ways you can support your baby’s natural healing process:
- Fold your baby’s diaper down, away from the cord. This will ensure the diaper doesn’t irritate the skin surrounding the stump, and will ensure that a urine-filled diaper will not apply unnecessary wetness to the area. You can do this by first folding the diaper down, then fastening into place with the sticky tabs.
- Expose the cord to air as often as you can. Air will help to dry out the stump and speed up the healing process.
- Avoid getting the umbilical cord dirty. Those early days of newborn life can get messy, and your best offense is a good defense in keeping the umbilical cord area clean. Dress baby in clean clothes and pat the area dry with a clean cloth if it ever gets wet from spit-up, urine, milk, etc.
- Give sponge baths. We repeat: keeping the stump dry is imperative. When it comes to baths, lay them on an inclined infant bath seat or towel and use a sponge or washcloth with gentle soap to clean them, instead of submerging them in water. If the umbilical area becomes wet, pat it dry immediately. When the stump eventually falls off, it’s safe to submerge their belly in their first baby bath.
- Monitor the cord for any sign of infection. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, you should regularly inspect your baby’s umbilical cord stump for symptoms such as redness along the base, yellow or foul smelling discharge, or pain when touching the cord or skin surrounding it. Contact your pediatrician immediately if you believe something isn’t right.
“Stick to sponge baths only and don't submerge your baby in water until the cord falls off."
When Will Your Baby’s Umbilical Cord Fall Off?
Your baby’s umbilical cord should fall off when they are 1-2 weeks old. You should expect some discoloration—the stump may turn brown, blue or black, and may appear to shrivel up. No matter how withered the stump becomes, never pull it off yourself! It is important to wait for it to fall off itself to ensure the belly button’s healing process is totally complete.
When the cord does finally break away, your baby’s new belly button may appear raw and red. This is normal for the fresh belly button and should not last more than a few days. You may still want to sponge bathe your baby until the area looks properly healed.
If it doesn’t look totally healed within two weeks of the stump falling off, contact your pediatrician.
"Never pull your baby's umbilical cord off by yourself; wait for it to fall off on its own."
When to Call Your Doctor
Although most umbilical cord stumps fall off and heal on their own, there is a risk of infection and other complications to the sensitive area. It is important to be aware of what to look for when it comes to issues with your child’s umbilical cord.
Call your doctor right away if you notice any of these signs surrounding the umbilical cord area:
- stump is still attached after two weeks
- skin redness
- foul-smelling discharge
- red lumps or bulging tissue after the stump has fallen off
In addition to these signs, any fever or obvious discomfort when touching the navel area are indications that you should contact your health provider.
Truly Mama Takeaway
You and your baby will spend the first few weeks healing from childbirth together and fostering new bonds in ways both unexpected and natural. Caring for your baby’s umbilical cord may seem daunting, but with the right information, it’s nothing to stress about.
Always trust your gut if you feel something isn’t healing properly with your baby and contact your doctor.
Frequently Asked Questions
How often should the umbilical cord be cleaned?
Keep the umbilical cord as clean as you can by gently wiping it with a clean, dry cloth as often as needed. Do not use alcohol to wipe the area clean as pediatricians now believe that it can delay the umbilical cord’s healing process.
How do you care for the umbilical cord after it falls off?
Continue monitoring the naval area after the cord has fallen off to ensure your baby is fully healing. You may want to continue using a sponge bath until the area looks fully healed in a few days after the stump has fallen off.
How do you know if a baby’s umbilical cord is infected?
Signs of infection include fever, redness in the naval area, foul-smelling discharge, and pain or crying when touching the navel area. Contact your doctor without delay if you suspect an infection has developed.
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