If you're the parent of a newborn, you'll want to know about cord care. The umbilical cord that kept your baby nourished in the womb is now a little stump. As it dries, it will turn brown, shrivel, and harden. Within two or three weeks, it will fall off.
Here, you'll find instructions on caring for the stump — how to help it heal, dry up, and fall off safely. You'll also learn to identify the signs of infection, and find out when to call your health care provider.
Follow these guidelines to protect your baby's cord stump.
- Whenever you change your baby's diaper, pay special attention to the area at the base of the cord, nearest to the belly button. Wipe it gently but thoroughly to clean out any moist debris that may have collected. A cotton-tipped applicator works nicely for this. Don't worry about hurting your baby — there are no nerve endings in the cord stump.
- Be sure to allow air to reach the cord stump. This will help it heal and dry faster.
- Try to prevent diapers from rubbing against the stump. You can fold the diaper down under the cord stump. Or you can use disposable diapers with a cut-out notch at the top.
- Let the cord stump fall off on its own. In the past, cleaning the stump with rubbing alcohol was often suggested. New data suggest that natural drying will allow the cord to fall off faster. And remember, babies are born with "innies" or "outies." Don't try to cover the umbilical area with coins, bandages, or wraps to change what your baby was born with — it won't work and will only cause problems.
While your newborn still has her umbilical cord, it's best to give her quick sponge baths rather than submerging the cord stump. Once the cord has fallen off, feel free to bathe her in a baby tub or sink. For more information, see Bathing Basics.
Warning Signs to Watch For
- If the cord oozes yellow pus, if it develops a bad odor, or if the area around the base is red and swollen, it may be infected. You should notify your baby's health care provider immediately.
- Redness can also be caused by the dry cord stump irritating the nearby skin. To determine what is causing the irritation, gently push the stump away from the red area and mark the margin of redness with a pen. Wait 30 to 60 minutes and check it again. If the redness is still there, and especially if it has spread beyond your mark, call your health care provider promptly. If the redness is just irritation from the stump, it will take care of itself in a little while.
- Occasionally, you may see small amounts of bleeding from the navel. This is normal as the blood vessels separate. If you notice bleeding, first try applying a little pressure. If the bleeding doesn't stop after five to seven minutes of constant pressure, call your health care provider.
- After the cord falls off, your baby's belly button may swell a bit and continue to ooze slightly. This is called an umbilical granuloma. Your health care provider may treat it with a drying medication called silver nitrate.