As the parent of a newborn baby, you'll want to learn more about umbilical cord care, including how to keep your baby's umbilical cord stump dry until it falls out, how to spot signs of infection, and when to contact your health care provider. Read on to find out all of this.

What is the umbilical cord

The umbilical cord is a tube that connects you to your baby during pregnancy. It contains three blood vessels: one vein that carries food and oxygen from the placenta to your baby and two arteries that carry waste products from your baby to the placenta.

After delivery, doctors tie and cut the cord. It will leave a small stump on your baby's tummy. They can range in length from half an inch to an inch.

At first, the stem may look shiny and yellow. But when it dries, it may turn brown, gray, or even purple or blue. It will wilt and turn black before falling off on its own.

When does the umbilical cord fall off

A newborn's umbilical cord stump falls off about two weeks after birth. In the meantime, gently treat your baby's umbilical cord stump. Call your child's health care provider if he has not fallen by the time your child is two months old.

In some cases, there may be an underlying reason why the umbilical cord pelvis has not fallen off, such as an infection or an immune system disorder, which your provider will investigate.

After the stem has fallen off, the skin under it should heal. Sometimes, the skin may be a little raw, and a little fluid may leak out. Continue to keep your baby's belly button dry and clean and soon it will be completely healed. Call your health care provider if it has not healed within two weeks of falling off the stump.

How to care and clean the umbilical cord stump

The best way to care for an umbilical cord stump is to keep it clean and dry until it falls off on its own.

Here are some tips for caring for a newborn's belly button:
  • If the cord gets wet, gently dry it with a clean baby cloth. You can also try using a cotton bud, but avoid being too aggressive or rubbing the stump.
  • Use clean, cotton clothing on the newborn and the treated navel. It's okay to pull light clothing over the stump but avoid clothing that is too tight.
  • Fold the top of your baby's nappy away from the stump. 
  • Foam baths are best when you are waiting for the umbilical cord stump to fall off on its own because you can easily avoid washing the area around the stump.
Ask your doctor how often you should wash your baby. Their skin is sensitive and does not need to be cleaned every day.

To bathe your baby with his stump still attached:

Lay a clean, dry bath towel on the floor in a warm area of your home.

Lay your baby naked on the towel.

Wet a clean baby cloth well and wring it out so it doesn't get wet.

Gently stroke your baby's skin, avoiding the navel.

Focus on the folds of the neck and armpits, where milk or formula often collects.

Allow your baby's skin to air dry for as long as possible, then pat it dry.

Dress your baby in clean, cotton clothes that are neither too tight nor too loose.

When do you seek medical advice

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

  • Pus (yellowish fluid) around the base of the cord and it smells foul.
  • Red and fluffy leather around the base of the cord.
  • Your baby cries when you touch the cord or the skin around it.
  • A red, moist bump on your baby's navel that persists for more than two weeks after the umbilical cord falls off. Your child's doctor can treat this simple problem.
  • Swelling of tissues around the navel, usually seen after the umbilical cord has fallen off. This may be an umbilical hernia, which usually disappears on its own. 

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