How to care of your baby’s Umbilical cord?

As the parent of a newborn, you’ll want to know about umbilical cord care. Read on to learn how to keep your baby’s umbilical cord stump clean and dry until it falls off, how to identify the signs of an infection, and when the stump will fully heal to reveal a kissable little belly button.

What Is the Umbilical Cord Stump?

While you’re pregnant, the umbilical cord is the lifeline connecting your foetus with the placenta, delivering nutrients and oxygen to your little one in the uterus, while also taking away waste products like carbon dioxide. Soon after your baby is born the cord is clamped and cut. Your baby doesn’t feel a thing when this happens, as the umbilical cord has no nerves in it. This leaves a stump about 2 to 3 centimetres long, in the place where your baby’s belly button will be. At first, the umbilical cord stump will still have a small plastic clamp on it, to prevent bleeding. This clamp may be removed by medical staff when the stump has dried, or it may be left on until the stump falls off. Whether the clamp is removed or not depends on the policy of your hospital or birthing centre. Your midwife or doctor can tell you what the facility’s procedures are. If the clamp is removed, you may be offered it as a keepsake. If you’d like to keep your baby’s umbilical cord clamp as a memento, it’s a good idea to let your midwife know beforehand and make a note of it in your birth plan, if you have one.

When Does the Umbilical Cord Stump Fall Off?

The umbilical cord stump usually turns black and falls off within around 5 to 15 days after your baby’s birth. When the stump falls off, don’t worry if you notice a small mound of sticky discharge where the cord attached to your baby’s skin – this is perfectly normal and may continue for a few days after the stump falls off. After the umbilical cord stump comes off it may take about another 7 to 10 days for your baby’s belly button to heal completely. The cord stump can take longer to fall off if there’s an infection or your baby is being treated with antibiotics. Ask your midwife, health visitor or doctor for advice if you think it’s taking too long.

How to Care for and Clean the Umbilical Cord Stump

You may find the thought of caring your newborn baby’s umbilical cord stump a little daunting at first. Keep in mind that the key thing is to keep the area around it clean and dry. It won’t be long before you get the hang of it! The best times to inspect your little one’s stump and gently clean the area around it are when your little one’s nappy is off anyway, so especially at bath time or during nappy changes. We describe these scenarios in more detail a little lower down. Here are some general umbilical cord care tips to follow:

  • Keep the umbilical cord stump clean and dry. The cord stump itself doesn’t need cleaning unless it’s contaminated with poo or urine. Even then, just use a little plain water to wash it off – there’s no need for soap, creams or ointments. Ask your midwife or health visitor for advice if you’re not sure what to do.

  • Prevent irritation. Try to prevent your newborn’s nappies from rubbing against the umbilical cord stump by folding the top of the nappy down below the naval area. You could also choose to use a disposable nappy that has a contoured or cut-out notch in the waistband. Pampers New Baby nappies have this feature, for example.

  • Check for signs of infection. A little clear liquid oozing from the stump can be normal, but if you notice signs of infection like redness of the skin around the stump or a yellow discharge from the stump itself let your midwife, health visitor or doctor know immediately.

  • Don’t pick or pull at the stump. The best advice is to avoid touching it at all unless necessary. Let the umbilical cord stump fall off on its own rather than picking or pulling it, even if it’s hanging off. It will fall off by itself when it’s good and ready—in other words when the skin underneath is healing well.

  • Always wash your hands. Get into the habit of always washing your hands before and after caring for your baby. This can help reduce the risk of the stump being infected.

  • Keep an eye out for bleeding. A few drops of blood when the stump falls off is probably nothing to worry about. If you notice any more bleeding than this from your baby’s belly button, tell your midwife, health visitor or doctor right away.

  • Expose the cord stump to air. Give your baby as much time as you can with nothing at all covering his or her umbilical cord stump. This helps the stump heal more quickly by keeping it free of moisture.

Bath Time and Umbilical Cord Care

Until the stump falls off and your baby’s belly button heals, give your baby shallow baths and be careful not to immerse the cord stump in the water. If the stump does accidentally get splashed, don’t panic – just be sure to dry it carefully afterwards. If you don’t feel confident about bathing your baby while the umbilical cord stump is still in place, it’s fine to just ‘top and tail’ your little one until the belly button has healed, to avoid soaking the stump in water. To do this, get everything ready that you’ll need, like

  • a bowl of warm water

  • a towel

  • cotton wool

  • a wet cotton swab or cotton ball

  • a fresh nappy

  • clean clothes.

Then, follow these steps:

  • Lay your baby down on a padded flat surface — like the changing pad on the changing table, or on the floor on a soft towel — with your supplies within reach. Never leave your baby unattended during the sponge bath. If he or she is on a raised surface, such as the changing table, keep a hand on your little one at all times as well as using the safety strap.

  • Keep your little one snug and warm in a towel, exposing only the parts of the body that are being washed

  • Dip the cotton wool in the water and start by wiping gently around each eye, using a fresh piece of cotton wool for each eye

  • Using another fresh piece of cotton wool clean around but not inside your baby’s ear, then wash the rest of your little one’s face, neck and hands in the same way

  • For the umbilical cord stump area, wet a piece of cotton wool to clean the skin around the stump area, being careful not to get the stump itself wet.

  • Next, remove the nappy and wash the bottom and genital area. Again, use fresh cotton wool and warm water. If your baby’s a girl, always wipe the genitals from front to back. If he’s a boy, there’s no need to pull back the foreskin.

  • Dry the skin thoroughly, being careful to include between the folds of the skin.

Nappies and Umbilical Cord Care

You can read about how to change a nappy here, but keep in mind that in these first few weeks you’ll need to be extra careful to protect the umbilical cord stump area. If the cord stump hasn’t fallen off yet, use nappies with a contoured navel-protection waistband or fold down the top of the nappy to stop the nappy from irritating the stump. Nappy changes are a good time to inspect the umbilical cord stump and carefully clean the area around it with a wet swab or cotton wool ball (making sure to let it dry properly afterwards.

Signs of an Infected Umbilical Cord Stump

It’s unlikely your baby’s umbilical cord stump will become infected, but if you notice any of these signs of infection, let your midwife, health visitor or doctor know straight away:

  • A foul smelling yellow or green discharge from the stump area

  • A reddening of the skin around the stump

  • Bleeding from the base of the stump

  • Swelling of the navel area

  • Your baby not feeding well or showing other signs of illness such as a fever or seeming generally out of sorts

  • Your baby crying when you touch the stump, indicating it is tender or sore.

Umbilical Cord Conditions

These are two common conditions associated with the umbilical cord or belly button area. Talk to your doctor, midwife or health visitor if you think your baby may have either of these:

  • Umbilical granuloma. After the cord falls off, you may notice a reddish moist lump near where the cord fell off that may get leak clear fluid. Your doctor or midwife may suggest salt treatment if it isn’t infected. In this case it will usually go away after a few days. If it’s infected, antibiotics may be prescribed.

  • Umbilical hernia. If you notice that your baby’s belly button bulges out when he or she cries, he could have an umbilical hernia. This is a little hole in the abdominal wall that allows tissue to bulge out when there is pressure, such as when your little one cries. An umbilical hernia will often heal by itself by the time your child is around 12 months old. If it hasn’t gone away by the time your child is 3 or 4 years old, a very minor operation may be needed to ‘repair’ the hole in the abdominal wall.

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

  • The umbilical cord stump usually falls off 5 to 15 days after birth, although it may take longer if it becomes infected or if your baby is treated with antibiotics.

  • Signs of an umbilical cord infection include:

    • a smelly yellow discharge from the stump area
    • reddish skin around the stump
    • swelling of the navel area
    • your baby cries when you touch the stump.
  • After the stump falls off, the skin underneath should be healed. Sometimes a little fluid may seep out. Continue to keep the areas dry and clean and it will soon heal. Let your doctor or health visitor know if the skin hasn’t healed within two weeks of the stump falling off.

  • Allow the umbilical cord stump to be exposed to air. Don’t pull or pick at the stump. It will usually fall off on its own within a week or two after your baby’s birth.

The Bottom Line

Within a few weeks after your baby is born, what remains of the umbilical cord will fall off to reveal your baby’s cute little belly button. This is just one of the first of the many exciting milestones ahead. Although you’re no longer physically connected to your baby by an umbilical cord, that little tummy button can be a great reminder of how close the bond still is between you.

How we wrote this article
The information in this article is based on the expert advice found in trusted medical and government sources, such as the National Health Service (NHS). You can find a full list of sources used for this article below. The content on this page should not replace professional medical advice. Always consult medical professionals for full diagnosis and treatment.