What’s The Best Way To Care For My Baby’s Umbilical Cord?

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Hooray! You’ve made it through pregnancy, labor and delivery, and now you have a new little wonderful bundle of joy in your life. If you’re a first-time parent, you’re finding out (fast) about all the tasks that come along with that wonderful bundle: feeding, diapering, burping, swaddling…and that’s just the beginning!

Lauren Adler, MD, FAAP

It can all seem pretty overwhelming at first but don’t worry—at Westchester Health Pediatrics, we’ve got you covered. We’ve helped hundreds of parents take care of their newborns and we’re ready to help you, too.

One question we often get asked about is how to properly take care of the umbilical cord. There are several do’s and don’ts you should follow, which we’ll go over here in this blog so you can feel confident you’re doing the right things.

Why is there an umbilical cord stump?

During pregnancy, the umbilical cord supplies nutrients and oxygen to your developing baby. After birth, it’s no longer needed because your baby can now breathe and feed on his/her own. The cord is clamped and then cut, leaving behind a short stump that in time, dries up and falls off.

How to care for your baby’s umbilical cord

Pediatricians used to recommend cleaning the base of the cord with rubbing alcohol. However, we’ve now found that this can irritate a baby’s skin and delay the healing, so we no longer suggest it. Instead, we recommend following these six guidelines:

  1. Keep the stump dry. You want the base of the umbilical cord to dry out. For this to happen, it needs to be exposed to air as often as possible, which will also speed up the healing process. If you can, if the weather is warm enough, dress your baby in just a t-shirt and diaper (preferably one that has a notch cut out of it, or if not, fold the front of the diaper down) to allow more time for the cord to dry.
  2. Keep it clean. If the umbilical cord stump looks dirty or sticky, gently dab it with a wet washcloth (no soap or alcohol), then pat it dry with a dry cloth.
  3. Only give your baby sponge baths. Do not immerse your baby in a full-body water bath until after the umbilical cord has fallen off. If the stump gets really wet, lightly pat and then fan the area to dry it completely. Do not rub it drythis could cause irritation.
  4. Avoid covering the stump with a diaper. Many newborn-size disposable diapers now have a little notch cut out at the waistband. Another option is to fold down the front of a regular newborn diaper so that it’s not covering and rubbing against the stump. Also, change wet and dirty diapers as soon as possible so they don’t leak upward toward the navel.
  5. Dress your baby loosely. We recommend loose-fitting clothing that doesn’t press against the stump, like a loose onesie or just a t-shirt.
  6. Let the stump fall off on its own. Resist the temptation to pull off the stump yourself, even if it seems to be connected by only a small thread. If it does get unattached too soon, this could cause continuous bleeding. (If this happens, call your pediatrician immediately.)

Signs of infection to look out for

While the umbilical cord is healing, it’s normal to see a little blood near the stump. Much like a scab, the stump might bleed a little when it falls off.

However, you should contact your pediatrician right away if the umbilical area oozes pus, the surrounding skin becomes red and swollen, or the area develops a pink moist bump. These could be signs of an umbilical cord infection which can result in omphalitis (which could be life-threatening and needs to be treated immediately).

Also, take your baby to your pediatrician if the stump still hasn’t separated after three weeks. This might be a sign of an underlying problem, such an infection or immune system disorder.

Signs of infection:

  • Red, swollen appearance
  • A fluid-filled lump on or near your baby’s umbilical cord stump
  • Oozing pus or any foul-smelling discharge
  • Bleeding from the scab (though a little dried blood is normal)
  • Fever
  • Lethargy, low appetite, irritability
  • Abdominal swelling

If your baby develops an umbilical granuloma

An umbilical granuloma is a small nodule of firm pinkish-red tissue (similar to scar tissue) with yellow-green drainage. This is different from an infection because it’s not accompanied by swelling, redness, warmth, tenderness or a fever. We most often treat it by cauterization (silver nitrate applied to the area to burn the tissue). There are no nerve endings in this naval area, so it is not painful for your baby.

After the stump drops off

When your baby’s umbilical cord stump eventually does fall off, you might notice a small raw spot or small amount of blood-tinged fluid oozing out. This is nothing to worry about. Most cords dry completely and then fall off. See your pediatrician if the stump hasn’t fallen off after four weeks.

Count on us for information and advice to help you raise your baby

You’ve got questions, we’ve got answers. Whether you’re a new parent or an old hand, we want you to know that you can turn to us for help, whatever stage of development your child is in. We’re parents too, with years of experience helping parents care for their babies, including how to take care of the umbilical cord. To read about our tips, advice and guidance specifically for new parents, click here.

Helpful articles you might want to read:

Want to know more about umbilical cord care? Come see us.

If you’d like more information about the proper way to take care of your baby’s umbilical cord, or if you have questions about any aspect of caring for your newborn, please make an appointment with one of our Westchester Health Pediatrics pediatricians. Our #1 goal is to help you raise a happy, healthy child and for you to feel confident as a parent. Whenever, wherever you need us, we’re here for you.Make an appt

By Lauren Adler, MD, FAAP, Lead Pediatric Physician with Westchester Health Pediatrics, member of Northwell Health Physician Partners

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About the Author: ML Ball