Umbilical Cord Care: Tips on Cleaning and Avoiding Infection
How to Care for Your Baby’s Umbilical Cord
September 28, 2020

How to Care for Your Baby’s Umbilical Cord

How to Care for Your Baby’s Umbilical Cord.
How to Care for Your Baby’s Umbilical Cord

Your newborn’s umbilical cord stump will fall out on its own a few weeks after birth. It’s important to know how to care for it properly in order to prevent infection—and to help calm those new-parent nerves.

Umbilical Cord Function

The umbilical cord is a vital part of pregnancy, transporting nutrients and oxygen from you to your baby. It’s a narrow, tube-like structure that’s made up of three blood vessels: two small arteries that carry blood to the placenta and a larger vein that returns blood to your developing fetus. One side of the cord attaches to your placenta while the other side is attached to the abdomen of your fetus.

An umbilical cord can grow to be about 60 centimeters long. This ensures your little one has enough room to move around safely without risking damage to the cord or your placenta.

When does the umbilical cord form?

Your baby’s umbilical cord is formed by around week seven of pregnancy. Your baby is growing in other ways during this time as well. Lower limb buds that will eventually become legs are beginning to appear, and arm buds are starting to take on the shape of small paddles.

What happens to the umbilical cord after birth?

After your baby is born, the umbilical cord is clamped and cut close to your baby’s navel. (The clamp is put into place prior to cutting to help stop the cord from bleeding.) What’s left behind is a short stump on your baby’s belly button that will begin to dry out, heal and eventually fall off over the next few weeks.

When Does the Umbilical Cord Fall Off?

Your baby’s umbilical cord stump will begin to dry out and start healing immediately after it’s cut. Once it has completely dried out, the umbilical cord stump will fall off. This healing process doesn’t take very long—on average about two weeks or so after birth.

What if the umbilical cord falls off early?

Like most things with babies, there’s no precise timeline to predict exactly when your newborn’s umbilical cord will fall off. While most babies will lose their umbilical cord stump in about two weeks, some will fall off in less than a week while others will take up to three weeks.

Assuming there’s no active bleeding or signs of infection like redness or swelling, there’s nothing to worry about if your baby’s umbilical cord falls off early. It’s normal for the area to look a bit red and raw at first and then heal over time.

How to Clean the Umbilical Cord

Umbilical cord care is important in order to prevent irritation and possible infection. Since the umbilical cord stump falls out on its own, umbilical cord care is more about keeping the area clean, dry and free from anything that may rub against it and cause irritation.

Follow these tips to care for your newborn’s umbilical cord:

  • Keep the area dry. You need to keep your baby’s cord area exposed to the air as often as possible in order to allow the base of the cord to dry and speed up the healing process. Don’t submerge your baby in the bath until after the umbilical cord stump has fallen off; instead, give them a sponge bath. Let the area air out as much as possible by dressing your baby in just a shirt and a diaper when you can.
  • Don’t cause irritation. The best way to help your baby’s umbilical cord area heal is to let the stump fall out on its own. Resist the urge to pick at it or pull anything off. Use newborn diapers that have a special cutout for the cord area or fold down a regular diaper to prevent it from irritating the umbilical stump. Some parents also like kimono-style bodysuits since they snap on the side rather than on the bottom and won’t irritate baby’s navel area when you’re taking them on and off.
  • Keep the area clean. Pediatricians used to recommend applying rubbing alcohol to the umbilical cord stump to keep it clean, but research now says this may actually kill the bacteria that’s needed to help the stump dry and separate. Do your best to treat the area gently and keep it as clean as possible.

Normal vs. Infected Umbilical Cord

The majority of umbilical cord stumps will fall off on their own and fully heal without any issues. However, there are a few signs to be aware of that may indicate an infection that needs to be treated.

Here’s what to look out for when you’re caring for your newborn’s umbilical cord:

  • Foul-smelling yellowish discharge from the cord
  • Redness or swelling around the base of the cord
  • Crying when you touch the cord or the area around it
  • Active bleeding around the cord area (it’s normal to see a few drops of blood, but active bleeding is not)

If you notice any of these symptoms, reach out to your pediatrician immediately. If your doctor determines there’s an infection, they’ll be able prescribe medication to stop it from spreading.

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