Umbilical Cord Care Guide for Newborns

Overhead Newborn Belly Button With Umbilical Cord Still Attached

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What is the best way to care for your baby's umbilical cord? If you've heard the controversy ranging from "dry care" to applying alcohol, you're likely wondering what to do as a parent. You may have been told to put alcohol (70% isopropyl alcohol or rubbing alcohol) on your baby's umbilical cord until it falls off, but you may just as likely have been told not to use alcohol at all. You may have been told how to care for an umbilical cord one way with your first baby, and another way now.

Why Recommendations About Umbilical Cord Care Have Changed

Some experts think that too much alcohol can actually make the umbilical cord stump stay on longer, which most parents definitely don't want. And studies have shown that alcohol doesn't have as much of a protective effect against infections over simply allowing an umbilical cord to dry on its own (dry care).

Triple Dye vs. Hexachlorophene vs. No Treatment

Immediately after birth, the site of your baby's umbilical cord may, or may not, be treated with a substance to lower the risk of infection. Some hospitals use triple dye on a newborn's umbilical cord. (If you've noticed purple stuff around your baby's umbilical cord, that's what causes this.) Some hospitals use chlorhexidine. Some hospitals use other substances such as bacitracin, silver sulfadiazine, and hexachlorophene.

Which is best? Apparently, there are advantages and disadvantages to each method—a common one being that they may decrease the number of bacteria present around the umbilical cord. At the same time, the treatments often result in a greater amount of time before the umbilical cord falls off.

A recent review of studies to date found that chlorhexidine decreased the risk of umbilical cord infections (omphalitis) and infant mortality, but that these concerns are probably much greater in developing than in developed countries.


When going home, your doctor may or may not recommend applying alcohol to your baby's cord stump. If using alcohol to care for your baby's umbilical cord, it is usually best to apply it with a cotton swab or cotton ball a few times a day.

More frequently, you may be told to skip the alcohol. Parents who are told that they don't have to use alcohol often take this advice too far, though. They may never clean, or even touch, their baby's umbilical cord at all. Keep in mind that with umbilical cord dry care, you are actually supposed to wash the cord with soap and water when it becomes soiled, wipe it with a dry cotton swab, and then allow it to air-dry.

What You Need to Know

Despite some research on the subject, we still don't have a clear understanding of optimal cord care practices. Fortunately, umbilical cord infections are not very common and often easily treated when recognized quickly.

Until more research is done, ask your pediatrician what they suggest concerning umbilical cord care. Most recommend cleaning the umbilical cord stump with soap and water. Alcohol may kill bacteria that help the cord dry and separate.

Caring for an Umbilical Cord Stump at Home

Your baby's umbilical stump should fall off by the time they are one to four weeks old. Some sources recommend calling your doctor if the cord is still attached at four weeks. Ask your pediatrician what they recommend, and err on the side of calling sooner rather than later with any concerns you have as a parent.

When diapering, fold the diapers so that they do not cover the umbilical stump. You can buy diapers for newborns or cutaway diapers so this region doesn't rub on the stump. As long as it is warm enough, leaving the umbilical region open to the air may help it dry out sooner.

Until your baby's umbilical cord stump falls off, be sure to keep it clean and dry. Remember that your baby will only need sponge baths until his cord falls off and that the umbilical stump should not be submerged in a tub until that has occurred. There may be a few drops of dried blood around the stump when it falls off, but any real bleeding should alert you to call your pediatrician right away.

When to Contact Your Pediatrician About Umbilical Cord Issues

Umbilical cord infections or omphalitis: Signs of umbilical cord infection include redness around the area, a foul odor, and discharge, or discomfort when you touch the area around the umbilical cord. Call your pediatrician right away if any of these symptoms or signs should develop.

Umbilical cord granulomas: Sometimes a granuloma—a pinkish appearing nodule which drains a small amount of yellow-green material—may occur after the cord follows off. This is very common and usually resolves within a week. If it persists your pediatrician may cauterize the area with silver nitrate.

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  1. Ozdemir H, Bilgen H, Topuzoglu A, et al. Impact of different antiseptics on umbilical cord colonization and cord separation time. J Infect Dev Ctries. 2017;11(2):152-157. doi:10.3855/jidc.7224

  2. U.S. National Library of Medicine. Umbilical cord care in newborns. Updated February 25, 2020.