Women's Healthcare Topics

How to Care for the Umbilical Cord Stump

Reviewed by James Brann, M.D.

The Umbilical Cord Stump Falls Off in 2 - 3 Weeks

When you were pregnant, the umbilical cord served a life-supporting role. It provided your baby with his or her nourishment and oxygen. Immediately after birth, the umbilical cord will be clamped and snipped in a painless procedure. (The umbilical cord doesn't have any nerves, so your newborn won't feel any pain.)

After the umbilical cord is cut, it will leave a short stump on your baby's belly that you will need to care for until it dries out and falls off. For most babies, this happens within one to three weeks after birth. In general, any umbilical cord stump that remains attached after three weeks probably represents a delayed separation. Do not worry if the umbilical cord stump does not fall off in the normal time frame of three weeks, these stumps usually will separate with extra time. In some instances, after the cord has dried, it may be removed by the baby's doctor.

Babies often have the cutest belly buttons. The umbilical cord stump is not attractive at all. Many hospitals apply an antibacterial dye (which typically has a blue color) to a newborn's stump, which may stain the umbilical cord stump and surrounding skin for a short time. Your baby's stump will go through a number of color changes in the first few weeks after birth – changing from yellowish green to brown or black as it withers and dries.

How to Care for the Umbilical Cord Stump

Until the umbilical cord stump falls off, you have to keep the area dry and clean. Basic care for the stump will prevent it from becoming infected, and it may help your baby's belly button heal more quickly afterwards.

It's important that you keep the umbilical cord stump dry. To do this, you'll want to sponge bathe your infant until the stump falls off. Exposure to air will help dry out the base of the stump and speed up the falling off process.

During warm weather, allow your baby to wear just a loose T-shirt and diaper to promote air circulation and speed up the drying process. You should avoid any one-piece bodysuits until the stump falls off.

When changing your baby's diaper, keep the front of the diaper folded down to prevent it from covering the umbilical cord stump.

If you're having trouble folding the diaper, cut the front area before diapering your baby. This will prevent urine and feces from aggravating the stump.

If your baby does have an accidental "diaper blowout," or you just want to clean the stump, soak a cotton swab (or wash cloth) in baby soap and warm water. Gently dab the umbilical cord stump to clean it. Use a dry cloth to pat it dry.

Rubbing alcohol was once the recommended way of cleaning an umbilical cord stump, but new research suggests that it's better to leave the stump alone and allow it to dry out naturally.

There's a bit of controversy on whether you should use rubbing alcohol, or allow the cord to naturally dry. Some doctors recommend that you allow the umbilical cord to dry on its own, because the alcohol can delay the separation process by 1 to 2 days. Other healthcare providers still recommend using rubbing alcohol, since many parents don't like the odor that can develop without alcohol. Talk to your pediatrician to see what he or she recommends.

When the umbilical cord stump is getting ready to fall off, it's important that you resist the urge to tug on it. Even if the stump is barely hanging on, allow it to fall off on its own. When the cord is pulled off before it's ready, this can cause it to actively bleed. You'll need to call your baby's pediatrician immediately when this happens.

Around the time the umbilical cord stump falls off, you may notice a few drops of blood. This is normal. You just don't want the cord to actively bleed.

Signs of Umbilical Cord Infections

Caring for your baby's umbilical cord will help prevent infections. If the umbilical cord becomes infected, you will want to call your baby's doctor. Signs of an umbilical cord infection include:

    This article is to help you care for your baby's umbilical cord stump.
  • There is pus, or foul-smelling yellow discharge that comes from the umbilical cord.

  • Your baby develops a fever and looks ill.

  • The area around the belly button becomes red or swollen.

  • Your infant cries when you touch the umbilical cord or the skin surrounding it.

When your baby gets an umbilical cord infection, your baby needs to be treated with antibiotics to stop the infection from spreading elsewhere.

Umbilical Cord Complications

Sometimes, the umbilical cord doesn't completely dry and it forms a small, reddened mass of scar tissue that remains on your baby's navel after the stump has fallen off. This is an "umbilical granuloma," and it's usually not serious. It should go away within a week.

After the umbilical cord falls off, if you notice that the tissue around your baby's navel pushes outward when he or she cries, this may be a sign of an umbilical hernia – a small weakness in the wall of the abdomen. Umbilical hernias aren't serious, and they usually go away in the first eight months after birth. In the rare case that it doesn't heal, your doctor may need to surgically repair the defect.


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