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Umbilical Cord Care

Topic Overview

After the umbilical cord is cut at birth, a stump of tissue remains attached to your baby's belly button (navel). The stump gradually dries and shrivels until it falls off, usually 1 to 2 weeks after birth. It is important that you keep the umbilical cord stump and surrounding skin clean and dry. This basic care helps prevent infection. It may also help the umbilical cord stump to fall off and the navel to heal more quickly.

Cleaning

Gently clean your baby's umbilical cord stump and the surrounding skin at least once a day and as needed during diaper changes or baths.

  1. Soak a cotton swab in warm water and mild soap. Squeeze out the excess water. Gently wipe around the sides of the stump and the skin around it. Your doctor may recommend using rubbing alcohol instead of soap and water. If you use rubbing alcohol, first apply a gentle lotion around the stump. This can help protect your baby's sensitive skin.
  2. Wipe away any wet, sticky, or dirty substances.
  3. Gently pat dry the area with a soft cloth.

The stump usually falls off in 1 or 2 weeks, but sometimes it takes longer. Continue to clean around the navel at least once a day until the navel has completely healed.

Keeping the area dry

You can help your baby's umbilical cord stump fall off and heal faster by keeping it dry between cleanings.

  • Keep your baby's diaper folded below the umbilical cord stump. If folding does not work well, try cutting out an area in the front of the diaper (before you put it on your baby) to keep the stump exposed to air. It also helps prevent diaper contents, such as urine, from irritating the stump.
  • Bathe your baby carefully. Keep the umbilical cord stump above the water level until the stump falls off and heals. Many baby baths are gently sloped. This helps you position your baby for a sponge bath and helps you keep the umbilical cord out of the water.

Knowing what to expect

  • Most umbilical cord stumps look worse than they really are. Right after birth, an umbilical cord stump usually looks white and shiny and may feel slightly damp. As the stump dries and heals, it may look brown, gray, or even black. This is normal. Usually no problems will develop as long as you keep the area clean and dry.
  • The umbilical cord stump usually falls off in 1 or 2 weeks. Sometimes the stump falls off before the first week. Other times, the stump may stay longer.
  • You may notice a red, raw-looking spot right after the stump falls off. A small amount of fluid sometimes tinged with blood may ooze out of the navel area. It is normal for this to last up to 2 weeks after the stump falls off. If it doesn't heal or dry completely within 2 weeks, call your doctor.

When to call a doctor

Call your baby's doctor if you see any signs of an infection. These signs include:

  • Pus (yellowish fluid) that is around the base of the cord and smells bad.
  • Red, tender skin around the base of the cord.
  • Your baby crying when you touch the cord or the skin around it.
  • Fever.

Also call your baby's doctor if you notice any other problems with the umbilical cord area, such as:

  • A moist, red lump on your baby's navel that lasts for more than 2 weeks after the umbilical cord has fallen off. This may be a piece of extra tissue called an umbilical granuloma. Your baby's doctor can treat this minor problem.
  • Bulging tissue around the navel, usually noticed after the umbilical cord falls off. This may be an umbilical hernia, which usually goes away on its own. But it should be watched by a doctor.

References

Other Works Consulted

  • Burgos AE (2011). Postnatal care and observation. In CD Rudolph et al., eds., Rudolph's Pediatrics, 22nd ed., pp. 184–189. New York: McGraw-Hill.
  • Hagan JF, et al., eds. (2008). Health supervision: Newborn visit. In Bright Futures: Guidelines for Health Supervision of Infants, Children, and Adolescents, 3rd ed., pp. 271–288. Elk Grove Village, IL: American Academy of Pediatrics.
  • Zupan J, et al. (2004). Topical umbilical cord care at birth. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (3).

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Susan C. Kim, MD - Pediatrics
John Pope, MD - Pediatrics
Last Revised January 10, 2013

Last Revised: January 10, 2013

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