Your baby’s umbilical cord is clamped and cut within minutes of birth. This is a painless experience for your newborn, since there are no nerves in the umbilical cord. The short stump that remains after birth will need to be cared for and kept clean until it dries and falls off.
Caring for the umbilical cord stump can be a daunting task for first-time parents. You may not know how to clean it, or how to handle the color changes of the umbilical cord. Taking care of a newborn umbilical cord isn’t hard, but you do need to pay attention for any signs of bleeding or infection.
When Does the Umbilical Cord Stump Fall Off?
For a majority of infants, their umbilical cord stump will dry, heal, and fall off within one to three weeks (7 to 21 days) of birth. For some babies, it takes up to 8 weeks (2 months) before the umbilical cord falls off. Please be patient during this process and resist the urge to pull off the umbilical cord yourself, even if the stump is barely hanging on. Allow the stump to fall off on its own.
When the umbilical cord falls off, it may leave a small wound that takes several days to heal. During this healing process, it’s common for you to notice a little bit of dried blood or crust in the umbilical area.
Contact the pediatrician or your baby’s doctor if the umbilical cord hasn’t fallen off by the time your baby is two months old.
Umbilical Cord Stump Colors
As the umbilical cord stump separates and dries up, you may notice that it changes colors – from yellow-green to black as it withers, dries, and eventually falls off. Don’t be alarmed by any of the color changes; this is normal.
How to Care for the Umbilical Cord Stump
You need to keep your baby’s umbilical cord clean and dry until it falls off. Keeping the umbilical cord stump clean will help prevent infection, and keeping the stump dry will help dry out the base and make it fall off faster.
Tips for Keeping the Stump Dry
Whenever possible, you want to expose the umbilical cord stump to air, since this help speed up the drying process.
- In the summertime, dress your baby in a loose T-shirt and diaper.
- When changing your baby’s diaper, fold the diaper below the stump. You can also buy newborn diapers that have a cutout space for the umbilical cord stump.
- Don’t dress your baby in a bodysuit-style undershirt until after the umbilical cord has already fallen off.
- Avoid giving your baby any tub baths until after the stump falls off. You may want to give him or her sponge baths instead.
Tips for Cleaning the Umbilical Cord
In the old days, doctors would advise parents to swab their infants’ umbilical cord stump with rubbing alcohol after each diaper change. The medical opinion on this is now mixed. Researchers now argue that the umbilical cord stump will dry and heal faster when you leave it alone.
If your baby’s umbilical cord gets dirty or sticky for whatever reason, you should take a washcloth and soak it in mild baby soap and warm water. Dab the umbilical cord stump to clean it, and pat dry with a dry, clean cloth. You can also fan the umbilical cord stump dry with a piece of paper.
What’s the Consensus on Rubbing Alcohol on the Umbilical Cord Stump?
The time-honored tradition of swabbing the baby’s umbilical cord stump with rubbing alcohol is still recommended by some pediatricians, but not all of them. Ever since a 1998 study from Canada found that untreated umbilical cord stumps healed in eight days, while cords that were treated with alcohol swabs took 10 days to fall off, many healthcare providers have been advising parents to leave the umbilical cords alone.
The choice to clean your baby’s umbilical cord stump with a bit of rubbing alcohol is yours to make. Some parents don’t like the smell or goopiness that comes with leaving the umbilical cord stump alone. It just depends on whether you want your baby to have the stump for one or two days longer.
If you aren’t sure of what method is best for you, talk to your pediatrician about his or her recommendation.
Umbilical Granuloma and Other Problems
For a majority of babies, they won’t experience any problems when their umbilical cord falls off. Sometimes, however, when the stump falls off, there are bits of lumpy flesh (pink scar tissue) that remains on the navel. This is called an “umbilical granuloma.” It’s not a serious condition, and it doesn’t hurt your baby since it contains no nerves. Sometimes, the scar tissue disappears on its own. Other times, it may need to be burned off by the pediatrician.
Another problem that can happen after your baby’s umbilical cord falls off is active bleeding. For this reason, you don’t want to pull off the umbilical cord stump, even if it’s hanging on by thread. If your baby experiences active bleeding at the navel, you will notice that every single drop that you wipe away will be replaced by another drop of blood. Always call the doctor if you notice any bleeding at the umbilical cord site.
Signs of an Umbilical Cord Infection
Keeping your baby’s umbilical cord dry and clean will keep it from becoming infected. Umbilical cord infections don’t occur very often, but they can spread very rapidly when it does happen. Call your baby’s doctor right away if you notice any of the following signs:
- There is foul-smelling, yellow draining coming from the umbilical cord.
- The skin around the umbilical cord is red and tender.
- Your baby’s navel and the surrounding area look swollen.
- There’s pus around the base of the umbilical cord stump.
- Your baby develops a fever, begins to act abnormal, or looks sick.
If your infant has an umbilical cord infection, getting it treated can prevent the infection from spreading to other areas. Always trust your maternal instinct. When you feel that something’s not right, call the pediatrician’s office.