Taking Care of Your Newborn’s Umbilical Cord

As the parent of a newborn, you’ll want to know about umbilical cord care, including how to keep your baby’s umbilical cord stump dry until it falls off, how to identify the signs of infection, and when to call your healthcare provider. Read on to learn about all this, and more.

What Is the Umbilical Cord Stump and When Will It Fall Off?

The umbilical cord delivered nutrients and oxygen to your baby in the uterus. Soon after your baby is born the cord is clamped and cut. Your baby wouldn’t feel this as the umbilical cord has no nerves in it.

The clamp is usually kept in place for 24 to 48 hours. It is removed once what remains of the cord has dried and no longer bleeds.

Once the clamp is removed, what will remain on your little one’s belly is a little stump. As the umbilical cord stump dries, shrivels, and hardens, it will go from a yellow color to a brownish black.

The umbilical cord stump usually falls off within a few weeks of your baby’s birth. Contact your baby’s healthcare provider if it hasn't fallen off by the time your little one is 2 months old.

In some cases, there may be an underlying cause for the umbilical cord stump not falling off, such as an infection or an immune system disorder, which your provider will investigate.

After the stump falls off, the skin underneath should be healed. Sometimes, the skin may be a little raw, and a little fluid may seep out. Continue to keep your little one’s belly button dry and clean, including if it’s an outie belly button, and it should soon heal completely. Contact your healthcare provider if it hasn’t healed within two weeks of the stump falling off.

How to Care for and Clean the Umbilical Cord Stump

The key is to keep the stump area clean and dry. It might be most convenient to clean your little one's stump when you change her diaper or when you bathe her.

Here are some umbilical cord care tips to follow:

  • Keep the umbilical cord stump clean and dry. Experts recommend “dry cord care,” which means allowing air to reach the cord stump and not covering it in water or ointments. You may have heard of dabbing rubbing alcohol on the stump, but nowadays experts tend to recommend just letting it be. Ask your healthcare provider for advice if you're not sure what to do.

  • Prevent irritation. Try to prevent your newborn's diapers from rubbing against the stump by folding the top of the diaper down under the cord stump, or choosing a disposable diaper with a cutout notch at the top. Pampers Swaddlers have this feature, for example.

  • Check for signs of infection. Clear liquid oozing from the stump, drops of blood, and scabbing can be normal, but if you notice any signs of an infected umbilical cord stump or if your baby has a fever, let your healthcare provider know right away.

  • Don't pick at the stump. Let the umbilical cord stump fall off on its own rather than picking or pulling it, even if it's hanging off. It will fall off in due course.

  • Keep an eye out for bleeding. A few drops of blood when the stump falls off is normal. If it bleeds any more than this, contact your baby's healthcare provider.

  • Don't tape or cover the umbilical area with a coin. Contrary to what you may have heard, taping the navel area down or placing a coin on it won't help change the shape of your little one's belly button, and may actually cause damage. Reach out to your baby's healthcare provider if you're concerned about the shape of your baby's belly button or if you suspect your little one may have a condition like an umbilical hernia.

Bath Time and Umbilical Cord Care

Until the stump falls off and your baby's belly button heals, it's best to stick with sponge bathing so that you avoid soaking the stump in water. You don't need to sponge bathe your baby every day; two or three times a week is usually enough.

You may wish to use sponge bath time to gently clean the umbilical cord stump as well.

To give your little one a sponge bath, get everything ready that you'll need like

  • a bowl of warm water

  • a washcloth

  • baby soap

  • a wet cotton swab or cotton ball

  • towels

  • a fresh diaper

  • clothes.

Lay your baby down on a padded flat surface — like the changing pad on the changing table, or on the floor on a soft towel — with your supplies within reach. Never leave your baby unattended during the sponge bath; if she's on a raised surface, such as the changing table, keep the safety strap fastened and a hand on her at all times.

Keep your little one covered in a towel so she doesn't become chilled, exposing only the parts of the body that are being washed. Start with her face, using the damp washcloth but no soap so that you don't get soap in her eyes. Then add soap to the water and continue to gently clean the rest of her body, especially the folds of her skin around her neck, ears, and genital area.

For the umbilical cord stump area, follow the umbilical cord care tips listed above. You may wish to use a wet cotton ball or a swab to clean the skin around the stump area, being careful not to get the stump itself wet.

Once the cord has fallen off, feel free to bathe your baby in a baby bathtub or in the sink.

Changing Your Baby’s Diaper and Protecting the Umbilical Cord Stump

You can read about how to change a diaper here, but keep in mind that in these first few weeks you’ll need to be extra careful to protect the umbilical cord stump area.

If the cord stump hasn’t fallen off yet, use notch-cutout diapers or fold down the top of the diaper to prevent urine from reaching the stump and to prevent the diaper itself from irritating the stump.

For the umbilical cord stump area, follow the umbilical cord care tips listed above. You may wish to use a wet cotton ball or a swab to clean the skin around the stump area, being careful not to get the stump itself wet.

Signs of an Infected Umbilical Cord Stump

It’s unlikely your baby’s umbilical cord stump will become infected, but if you notice any of these signs of an infected umbilical cord, contact your baby’s healthcare provider.

These are some of the signs of an infected umbilical cord:

  • A smelly yellow discharge from the stump area

  • A reddening of the skin around the stump

  • Swelling of the navel area

  • Your baby crying when you touch the stump, indicating it is tender or sore.

It’s normal to see crusted discharge, dried blood, or a little bleeding when the umbilical cord stump falls off. Bleeding is not necessarily a sign that your newborn’s belly button is infected, but if your baby’s umbilical cord area continues to bleed ask your child’s healthcare provider for advice.

Read more about baby skin care so that you can help keep your little one’s soft skin healthy and clean.

Umbilical Cord Conditions

These are two conditions associated with the umbilical cord or navel area. Chat with your healthcare provider if you think your baby may have either of these:

  • Umbilical granuloma. After the cord falls off, you may notice a reddish moist lump or nodule near where the cord fell off that may get slightly larger and continue to ooze slightly. This is likely go away after about a week or so, but if not your baby’s healthcare provider may remove it.

  • Umbilical hernia. If you notice that your baby’s belly button bulges out when he cries, he could have an umbilical hernia. This is a little hole in the abdominal wall that allows tissue to bulge out when there is pressure, such as when your little one cries. An umbilical hernia will typically heal when your child is between 12 months old and 18 months old.

The Bottom Line

Within a few weeks after your baby is born, what remains of the umbilical cord will fall off to reveal your baby’s cute little belly button. It’s a reminder of how far your little one’s come in just a short time.

As you go about carefully changing your newborn’s diapers, know that you could be getting discounts for all that you’re doing. Download the Pampers Club app to get started.

How We Wrote This Article The information in this article is based on the expert advice found in trusted medical and government sources, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. You can find a full list of sources used for this article below. The content on this page should not replace professional medical advice. Always consult medical professionals for full diagnosis and treatment.