What to Expect and How to Care for a Newborn's Umbilical Cord

What to Expect and How to Care for a Newborn’s Umbilical Cord

newbornsUpdated January 28, 2021

The umbilical cord is what connected your baby to your placenta and bloodstream during pregnancy. Without an umbilical cord, the baby would not be getting the nutrients or oxygen needed to develop. But once the baby comes out, that cord is no longer needed. Your doctor or midwife will cut the umbilical cord (or help your partner do so), detaching your baby to be his own separate little person. But what comes next for newborn umbilical cord care?

What to Expect from Baby’s Umbilical Cord

The umbilical cord is clamped a few millimeters from the body and then cut. The clamp helps stop the bleeding from the three blood vessels in the umbilical cord, two arteries, and one vein. Allowing part of the cord to stay on the body and fall off on its own is what creates a belly button.

Most U.S hospitals practice “dry cord care” now, but if not, they may apply a medication to the cord once it’s cut that is a purple dye or a different antiseptic.

Umbilical cords tend to look worse than they are. They start white and shiny, and as they dry out, they might become gray, yellowish, brown, or black.

Once the stump falls off, you may see a red or raw looking area under where the stump fell off. Sometimes even a small amount of liquid tinged with blood may ooze out of the navel. It is called umbilical granuloma. That is normal. However, if it does not dry up within 1-2 weeks, call the doctor, they may prescribe a drying medication called silver nitrate in addition to standard umbilical cord care.

Umbilical Cord Care

For the cord to fall off, it needs to remain dry. To ensure this, use sponge baths (not submersion baths in the tub) to keep the cord from getting wet. Because if it doesn’t dry out, the risk of infection increases. Read more here for 8 tips when giving babies their first bath.

Dress the baby in a diaper and t-shirt, allowing airflow to the umbilical cord. Folding the diaper down in the front will prevent irritation and keep moisture away from the belly button area. Avoid full body onesies until the cord has fallen off to prevent rubbing and irritation on it.

Even if the cord looks like it is hanging just by a bit, resist trying to pull it off. Proper umbilical cord care calls for letting it fall off on its own.

If you notice a crusty or waxy substance around the base of the umbilical cord and you feel like you need to clean around the base of it, soaking a cotton swab in warm water and mild soap can do the trick. Squeeze all the excess water out of the cotton swab and gently wipe around the base of the umbilical cord, wiping away crust or sticky substances. Then gently pat with a dry cloth and let it air dry. Do not worry about hurting the baby while doing this; the baby has no nerve endings there.

Signs of Possible Umbilical Cord Infection

Call your doctor if you notice any of the following signs and symptoms of infection:

  • The belly button area starts to smell.
  • Your baby cries when cord is touched.
  • The skin around the umbilicus looks inflamed.
  • If the belly button will not stop bleeding once the cord has fallen off.
  • Baby develops a fever.

Omphalitis is a life-threatening infection that can develop from a primary infection at the umbilical cord. Therefore, signs of infection need to be treated immediately.

Formation of the Belly Button

Contrary to popular belief, there is no way to predict if your baby’s belly button will be an “innie” or an “outie.” And there is no umbilical cord care that will help either way. And there is no way to change a baby’s navel by attempting to remove the baby’s umbilical “stump” prematurely. Also, do not tape a coin or other flat object to the baby’s navel to prevent an outie.

Umbilical cord care can be broken down into two main thoughts: Keep it dry and don’t pick at it. Nature will take over. But in the rare case of umbilical cord care that you suspect you do need to clean or if there is a complication, call your doctor and see what they recommend.


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