Updated on January 26th, 2024 // by Katie Griffin
After birth, the umbilical cord is clamped and cut, leaving a small stump. This stump is temporary, but it requires some gentle care to ensure it heals properly. Let’s go through some simple, yet effective ways to care for your baby’s umbilical cord stump, so it can heal naturally and comfortably.
The umbilical cord stump is what’s left of the cord that connected you and your baby during pregnancy. It’s important to remember that the stump is a normal and temporary part of your newborn’s development. It will eventually dry out and fall off, typically within 1 to 3 weeks after birth.
What to Expect & What’s Normal
Color & Texture: Initially, the stump may be a dark purple or black color. As it dries and gradually begins to shrivel and get hard, it will change color, going from yellowish-green to brown or black – this is normal.
Falling Off: The stump typically falls off on its own within 1 to 3 weeks after birth. Try your best to let this happen naturally and avoid pulling it off, though it does happen occasionally.
A Little Blood: When the stump falls off, it’s normal to see a small amount of blood or a little bloody discharge on your baby’s diaper. This is just the body’s way of healing the area where the stump was attached.
Discharge: A small amount of sticky, yellowish discharge around the stump are normal as it dries and detaches. You may find this yellow discharge stuck to baby’s shirt or onesie.
Belly Button Healing: Once the stump falls off, baby’s new belly button area may look a bit raw. This should heal and improve within a few days.
Learn More: Baby Umbilical Cord Falling Off – What’s Normal This post includes photographs of umbilical cord healing
How to Clean an Umbilical Cord Stump:
- Use a Soft Cloth: Dampen a soft, clean cloth with warm water. If recommended by your pediatrician, you can use mild soap.
- Wipe Gently: Gently wipe around the base of the cord. Be cautions not to tug or pull on the cord stump.
- Dry Thoroughly: After cleaning, gently pat the area dry with a clean, dry cloth. It’s important to keep the area as dry as possible.
Umbilical Cord Care: Keeping It Dry and Aired Out
Dry Cord Care: The key to umbilical cord care is keeping it dry. Exposing it to air helps the stump dry out and fall off more quickly. Dress your baby in loose, comfortable clothing that doesn’t rub against the stump.
While advice on how to best dry out the cord has changed over the years, today’s recommendation is to stick to basic care. Just keeping it dry and clean, and avoid using alcohol or other antiseptics.
Sponge Baths: Until the stump falls off and the area is fully healed, stick to sponge baths. Avoid submerging your baby’s belly in water, as this can keep the area moist and delay healing. Simply use a soft sponge or damp cloth with warm water in the area around the cord.
Diapering Tips: Fold your baby’s diaper away from the stump or use special newborn diapers with a cut-out for the cord. This prevents irritation and allows air to circulate.
Umbilical Cord Care: Avoiding Infection
Hands-Off Approach: Resist the temptation to pull off the stump, even if it seems like it’s hanging by a thread. Pulling it off can cause bleeding and increase the risk of infection.
Signs of Infection: While infections are rare, it’s important to watch for signs. Contact your pediatrician if you notice redness around the base of the stump, yellowish discharge, swelling, or if your baby seems uncomfortable or has a fever.
Clean Gently: If the stump gets dirty, you can clean it gently with a wet cloth and mild soap. Then, pat it dry with a clean cloth.
Umbilical Cord Care: Common Problems and Solutions
Infection: Signs of an infection include redness around the base, swelling, pus, or foul odor. If the skin around the stump becomes red and swollen, or if your baby has a fever, contact your pediatrician. Most infections are easily treated with topical or oral antibiotics.
Delayed Healing: The stump typically falls off within 1 to 3 weeks. If it’s still attached after this period, consult your pediatrician. Occasionally, a small piece of tissue, known as a granuloma, can form and may need to be treated by a doctor.
Umbilical Hernia: Sometimes, you might notice a small bulge near your baby’s belly button. This is usually an umbilical hernia, which occurs when a part of the intestine protrudes through the abdominal muscles. Most umbilical hernias resolve on their own, but if the hernia is large or is still there by your baby’s first birthday, your pediatrician may discuss treatment options.
Omphalitis: A rare but serious condition where the stump becomes severely infected, leading to inflammation of the abdominal wall. This requires immediate medical care.
When to Call the Pediatrician
If the umbilical cord stump hasn’t fallen off after 3 weeks, it’s a good idea to consult your pediatrician.A few drops of blood as the stump falls off is normal. However, if the bleeding is continuous or if the stump bleeds every time it’s touched, it needs medical attention. If you’re ever concerned about how your baby’s umbilical cord stump looks or smells, or if your baby seems uncomfortable, don’t hesitate to reach out to your pediatrician for advice.
Caring for your baby’s umbilical cord can feel a bit daunting, but with these tips and a watchful eye, you’re more than equipped to handle it. If you ever feel uncertain or notice something unusual, your pediatrician is there to guide you. You’re doing a wonderful job caring for your little one, and soon, this will just be another chapter in your incredible journey of parenthood.
Hockenberry, M. and Wilson, D. (2011). Wong’s Nursing Care of Infants and Children, p. 255-256.
Mayo Clinic. Umbilical cord care: Do’s and don’ts for parents. Retrieved at https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/infant-and-toddler-health/in-depth/umbilical-cord/art-20048250#:~:text=Taking%20care%20of%20the%20stump&text=In%20the%20meantime%2C%20treat%20the,the%20cord%20dry%20and%20separate.