Umbilical cord care: Do's and don'ts for parents

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Umbilical cord care: Do's and don'ts for parents

Wonder how to care for your newborn's umbilical cord stump? Until the stump dries out and falls off, keep it clean and dry.

Why your baby has an umbilical cord stump

During pregnancy, the umbilical cord supplies nutrients and oxygen to your developing baby. After birth, the umbilical cord is no longer needed — so it's clamped and snipped. This leaves behind a short stump. The umbilical cord doesn't contain pain-sensitive nerve fibers, so your baby won't feel any discomfort during this rite of passage.

Umbilical cord at birth

After birth, the umbilical cord is clamped and snipped. If the umbilical cord has looped snugly around the baby's neck, the cord might be clamped and snipped before the baby's shoulders are delivered....

Image of umbilical cord at birth 

Taking care of the stump

Your baby's umbilical cord stump will change from yellowish green to brown to black as it dries out and eventually falls off — usually within about two weeks after birth. In the meantime, treat the area gently:

  • Keep the stump clean. Parents were once instructed to swab the stump with rubbing alcohol after every diaper change. Researchers now say the stump might heal faster if left alone. If the stump becomes dirty or sticky, clean it with plain water — then dry it by holding a clean, absorbent cloth around the stump or fanning it with a piece of paper.
  • Keep the stump dry. Expose the stump to air to help dry out the base. Keep the front of your baby's diaper folded down to avoid covering the stump. In warm weather, dress your baby in a diaper and T-shirt to improve air circulation.
  • Stick with sponge baths. Sponge baths might be most practical during the healing process. When the stump falls off, you can bathe your baby in a baby tub or sink.
  • Let the stump fall off on its own. Resist the temptation to pull off the stump yourself, even if it's hanging on by only a thread.

Signs of infection

During the healing process, it's normal to see a little crust or dried blood near the stump. Contact your baby's doctor if your baby develops a fever or if the umbilical area:

  • Appears red and swollen around the cord
  • Continues to bleed
  • Oozes yellowish pus
  • Produces a foul-smelling discharge

If your baby has an umbilical cord infection, prompt treatment can stop the infection from spreading.

Last Updated: 2012-02-22
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