When you have a brand new baby at home, there will be a lot of things to take care of. Fortunately, the umbilical cord stump doesn’t require you to do too much, but there are some things you’ll want to look out for. There are a few different schools of thought, so I’ll cover all of them here.
Basic care instructions.
As with anything baby, ask your doctor about their recommendations for umbilical cord care. But the universal directions are:
- Keep it clean and dry. If it gets dirty, wash it (more on that below).
- Fold diaper down or use newborn diapers that are cut to avoid the navel area.
- Change diaper often to avoid leakage and possibility of the umbilical cord getting dirty.
- Dress baby in t-shirt and diapers if it’s warm weather, rather than onesies which may irritate it.
- Don’t submerge baby in a bath. Sponge baths are best until the cord falls off.
- No matter what, don’t pull or tug on it, even if it’s hanging by a thread. You can cause bleeding and make the healing process take longer.
- The best thing you can do is leave it alone. There is no need to bandage it.
The umbilical cord stump is basically like a scab, so you can treat it that way. That means if it accidentally gets torn off too soon, it will bleed. That shouldn’t be a problem, but you’ll want to treat it appropriately.
Things to expect (what if it bleeds?)
Your baby’s umbilical cord stump is going to turn all kinds of interesting colors as it dries up. It could start out bluish white and change to purple, green, yellow, brown, gray, or black–the colors of the rainbow and then some! Don’t worry about the color.
It can take anywhere from 7 to 21 days for the stump to fall off, but it could even be longer or shorter than that. If your baby still has the umbilical cord attached after 4 weeks, call your doctor. Occasionally it can take up to two months for it to fall off! That is unusual, and if it’s taking over 2 months then you should take your child to the doctor.
You can expect a small amount of bleeding where the cord separated from baby’s body. If the diaper rubs against it, you might see a few drops, or you might notice a clear, mucous-like secretion streaked with blood. You can clean around it and apply gentle pressure to stop bleeding, if necessary.
If the bleeding isn’t stopping or it’s more than a few drops, call your doctor. It’s possible there is an infection.
After the stump falls off, you might notice a small amount of fluid tinged with blood for up to two weeks. If it is not healed and dry after two weeks, call your doctor.
Signs of infection.
- Belly button is warmer than other skin;
- There is a cloudy, pus-like drainage with foul smell;
- Baby seems uncomfortable or in pain when area is touched;
- Surrounding skin is red or swollen;
- Lethargy, low appetite, irritability;
- Abdominal swelling
Again, if you notice any of these signs, call your doctor right away.
How to clean it.
This is where there are many different schools of thought, so you should probably follow your doctor’s advice, but I will list the options below.
It used to be recommended to use alcohol to clean the stump, and to do it four times a day! However, the American Academy of Pediatrics recently changed their recommendations, as they found alcohol can irritate the skin, delay healing, and there was no evidence that it decreased the risk of infection.
Mayoclinic.org says that if the stump is dirty or sticky, you can clean it with plain water, and dry it by holding a clean absorbent cloth around it, or fan it with a piece of paper.
WebMD recommends cleaning it once a day with a wet cotton ball soaked in warm water, with mild soap. Gently wipe the sides and skin around it. Pat it dry with a soft cloth.
Some sites mention a treatment using Goldenseal root and Echinacea, but this advice definitely needs to come from your doctor, as there are specific instructions that, if not followed carefully, could burn the baby’s skin, according to Americanpregnancy.org.
Here’s a good video that shows you how to clean it:
WebMD informs us of a couple other things that could occur (but probably won’t):
After the stump falls off, if you notice a moist, red lump with yellow/green drainage that lasts more than two weeks, this could be extra tissue called “umbilical granuloma”. This is a minor problem that can be treated painlessly via cauterization by a doctor applying silver nitrate. Again, there are no nerve endings in the umbilical stump, so your baby won’t feel a thing.
Or if you see bulging tissue after the cord falls off, this could be an “umbilical hernia”, which usually goes away on its own, but should be watched by a doctor.
Some people want to be able to control whether their baby will have an “innie” or an “outie”. Unfortunately, there is no way to determine this–it is all up to chance. But if you keep your baby’s tummy clean and dry, they should have a beautiful, healthy belly button.