How to Care For Your Baby's Umbilical Cord

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Shortly after you give birth, your baby's umbilical cord is snipped, leaving behind a small stump that will fall off within a few weeks. Before you're ready to leave the hospital with your newborn, it's important to know how to care for the umbilical cord stump. Your doctor or nurse will likely briefly go over basic tips, but you may feel so overwhelmed with information that you find yourself unclear on how to deal with the belly button area once you get home.

Caring for the umbilical cord area helps prevent infection. Omphalitis is an infection of the umbilical cord stump and is life-threatening in newborns. Thankfully, omphalitis is rarely seen in developed countries such as the United States and can be prevented with proper care.

We spoke to two board-certified pediatricians about exactly what you need to do to care for your baby's umbilical cord stump and prevent infection, and what to know about any belly button irregularities once the stump falls off.

How to Care For Your Baby's Umbilical Cord When It's Still Attached

According to Florencia Segura, MD, of Einstein Pediatrics in Virginia, keeping the umbilical area dry is key. Families are advised to fold the top of the baby's diaper down and away from the stump, to keep away from moisture and make sure it's exposed to air as often as possible, says Dr. Segura. Exposing the stump to air will help the base of the stump dry out and speed up the healing process.

Because it's so important to keep the umbilical area dry, it's also advised to stick to sponge baths until the stump falls off. Lyndsey Garbi, MD, Chief Pediatrician at telehealth platform Blueberry Pediatrics, explains that you want to avoid submerging the area in water like you would in a typical bath. Instead, she advises families to use a washcloth to gently dab the area with gentle soap and water.

Dr. Segura and Dr. Garbi agree that using topical antiseptics, such as alcohol wipes, is not necessary, as it does not significantly reduce the risk of infection. Washing your own hands before diapering and bathing your baby is helpful for infection prevention.

When Does the Umbilical Cord Usually Fall Off?

The umbilical cord will typically fall off between 1 and 3 weeks. "If there is no detachment after 3 weeks, you should contact your pediatrician", says Dr. Segura.

Right before the stump falls off, there may be a yellowish goop surrounding the area. This is totally normal, Dr. Segura says. If you see this substance, you'll know the stump will likely detach soon.

What to Do When Your Baby's Umbilical Cord Detaches?

Once the umbilical cord stump has fallen off, it's best to wait 24 to 48 hours before giving the baby a bath to make sure any raw areas around the belly button have completely dried, according to Segura.

In most cases, no further action is necessary. Sometimes, however, there can be a soft pinkish area around the belly button with excess tissue called an umbilical granuloma, says Dr. Segura. But no need to fret — umbilical granulomas are not painful to your baby and are easily treated by your pediatrician.

Additionally, if you see pus or blood around the belly button, call or visit your pediatrician. You want to be sure that the area didn't develop an infection.

A Word From Verywell

It's important to take care of your baby's umbilical cord stump in order to prevent infection. Keeping the area dry, exposing your baby's belly to air, and making sure your own hands are clean when handling your newborn are ways to prevent infection and aid in the healing process. A "less is more approach" to newborn belly button care is best, but if you notice anything unusual, like pus or blood, you should contact your pediatrician right away.

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2 Sources
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  2. Stewart D, Benitz W, COMMITTEE ON FETUS AND NEWBORN. Umbilical cord care in the newborn infantPediatrics. 2016;138(3):e20162149.