What Should I Do If My Baby's Umbilical Cord is Bleeding?

baby umbilical cord

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If you notice that your newborn’s umbilical cord or cord stump is bleeding, it’s understandable that you may feel worried. After all, the umbilical cord area is a delicate spot in those weeks after birth. You can be assured to know that some light bleeding is normal, and can usually be handled by some at-home remedies. Occasionally, though, heavier bleeding takes place, and requires a call to your child's pediatrician or healthcare provider.

We connected with pediatric experts to offer some real-life advice about what to do if you notice your baby’s umbilical cord bleeding, as well as how to care for your baby's cord stump during the newborn period.

What Is the Umbilical Cord and Why Is It Important?

The umbilical cord is a rope-like structure that connects your baby to your placenta during pregnancy. Your baby’s umbilical cord is made up of two arteries and a vein, and its job is to transfer nutrients and oxygen from you to your developing fetus, says Christina Johns, MD, pediatric emergency doctor at PM Pediatric Care. “After birth, the lungs inflate providing oxygen to the baby and the baby’s gastrointestinal system delivers nutrients, so the cord is no longer needed and is clamped and cut,” she describes.

The cord is usually clamped with a small plastic clip and cut with sterile scissors, says Anthony Hudson, MD, pediatrician at Children’s Hospital New Orleans. This clip is left on the umbilical cord stump for your baby’s first 24-48 hours of life, he explains. “The umbilical stump then begins to dry out,” Dr. Hudson says. “Prior to discharge from the hospital, the plastic clip is removed, leaving a dry umbilical stump.” This stump will fall off in about seven to 14 days, he adds.

What Should My Baby's Umbilical Cord Look Like?

After the cord is cut, your baby’s naval area will go through a few stages of healing until they get a belly button. This process can take about three weeks, according to the Academy of American Pediatrics (AAP).

“In the first 24 hours, the umbilical cord remnant is whitish/yellow and shiny, and the inside has a jelly-like appearance," says Elizabeth Cilenti, MD, a pediatrician at Northern Virginia Family Practice Associates (NVFP). Within one or two days, the cord remnant will become dry, brown and look a little shriveled up, she says. “Once it’s completely dry, the plastic clamping device can be removed, usually before hospital discharge.”

While you wait for the cord to fall off, you want to keep the area clean, but also as dry as possible. In the past, pediatricians would recommend cleaning the healing cord area with alcohol, but this is no longer the protocol, says Dr. Cilenti. She recommends keeping the area dry and exposing it to air. You can also consider using a diaper with a notch in the front or folding down your baby’s diaper so the diaper doesn’t rub or pull on the cord stump, she suggests.

“The cord stump will usually fall off when the baby is 2-3 weeks old on its own—no need to pull or tug on it, even if it appears it’s just hanging by a thread,” Dr. Cilenti advises.

How to Respond If the Umbilical Cord Is Bleeding

Seeing a little blood on your baby’s umbilical cord as it heals isn’t unusual and isn’t always a cause for alarm. So if you see this, the first thing to do is take a deep breath.

“It is normal to see a small amount of bleeding when the cord stump falls off— like you’d see from a scab that’s been pulled off a cut,” assures Dr. Cilenti. Occasionally, a bit more blood may appear, such as if the cord stump catches on your baby’s clothes or their diaper, she adds. “It may bleed if part of the cord separates.”

If you notice bleeding, Dr. Johns advises that you apply firm pressure to the area, using a clean cloth or bandage. “If there is a scant amount of blood, it should resolve on its own quickly, but if there is ongoing bleeding, then a child’s pediatric healthcare professional should be called for guidance on next steps,” she recommends.

Dr. Cilenti suggests calling your child's pediatrician or healthcare provider if the bleeding doesn’t stop after applying pressure to the site, or if the bleeding is larger than the size of a quarter. Besides bleeding, Dr. Cilenti says that you should also watch for any signs of infection.

“If there is pus coming from the cord stump, redness, or swelling of the skin around the navel, you should seek emergency care right away, as these can be signs of serious infections,” she says.

A Word From Verywell

If you are a new parent—or even a veteran parent!—seeing blood on your tiny baby’s body can be shocking. Thankfully, seeing a little blood on your baby’s umbilical cord isn’t usually a problem and is actually more common than you might realize. On the other hand, if the cord site is bleeding a lot or the bleeding won’t stop after applying pressure, you should contact your child's pediatrician or healthcare provider right away. Whatever the case, don’t hesitate to reach out to your baby's physician if you have any questions or concerns about how their umbilical cord area is healing.

4 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Academy of Pediatrics. Umbilical Cord Care.

  2. Basta M, Lipsett BJ. Anatomy, Abdomen and Pelvis, Umbilical Cord. StatPearls Publishing.

  3. National Library of Medicine. Umbilical cord care in newborns.

  4. American Academy of Pediatrics. Umbilical Cord Care.

By Wendy Wisner
Wendy Wisner is a lactation consultant and writer covering maternal/child health, parenting, general health and wellness, and mental health. She has worked with breastfeeding parents for over a decade, and is a mom to two boys.