Newborn umbilical cord care is one of the most important tasks you must learn once you bring your baby home. If you’re a new or expecting parent, knowing how to keep a baby’s umbilical cord clean and free from infection is a very valuable skill in keeping them healthy during the first few days of their life.
What will a newborn umbilical cord look like?
The umbilical cord delivers the blood, oxygen, and nutrients that your baby needs while inside the womb. However, once your baby is born and the placenta is delivered, they won’t be needing the umbilical cord anymore.
Right after delivery, your doctor will clamp the cord around an inch near your baby’s belly before cutting and separating it from the placenta. Clamping is done to prevent blood loss since there are patent veins and arteries in the umbilical cord. It is cut because the placenta will soon decay and can be a potential source of infectious microorganisms. Don’t worry, clamping wouldn’t be painful for your baby because there are no nerves inside the umbilical cord!
So what will be left is the short, proximal part of your baby’s umbilical cord with a clamp at its end. More appropriately, it is called the umbilical cord stump. In some hospitals, the staff may place a tiny gauze with an antiseptic at its base to help collect the few drops of blood or fluid that will be oozing from the fresh cord. The staff will also assist and show you how to care for the umbilical cord stump while you are at the hospital.
For first-time parents, the umbilical cord stump may appear pretty scary to be touched, knowing that there is a fresh wound at its end. However, it is essential to continue caring for your baby’s umbilical cord stump once you arrive home with your baby.
How to care for the umbilical cord
The doctor or the hospital staff will give you instructions on how to care for your baby’s umbilical cord stump. The rule of thumb is to keep the area clean and dry until it eventually falls off on its own. In caring for your baby’s umbilical cord stump, remember the following:
Expose the area to air as often as possible.
This will help the cord dry out quickly and fall off sooner. As long as the temperature is warm and tolerable for your baby, you can leave that area uncovered.
Use a newborn diaper or a diaper with special cut-out on the front.
It is essential to keep the cord out of the diaper not only to help it dry out sooner but also to prevent urine and feces from contaminating the area. If your baby’s umbilical cord accidentally gets soiled, it will need to be cleaned.
If you don’t have a diaper with a special cut-out in front, you may simply fold down the upper front portion of the diaper. This way, you can prevent it from covering the umbilical cord stump.
Do not submerge the umbilical cord stump in water.
We know how excited you are to bathe your baby, but while the cord stump is still there, it is advised that you stick with sponge baths for a while. In a sponge bath, you can clean your baby’s face and other body parts using a damp wash cloth without actually placing your baby into the water.
Do not try to pull the umbilical cord stump.
Though you may feel the temptation to pull out the dry cord stump from its base, it is important not to put unnecessary force and leave the umbilical cord to fall off on its own.
Frequently check the area for signs of infection.
The umbilical cord stump has an open wound that is susceptible to infection. Every diaper change, check the site for any signs of infection such as:
- Redness or swelling around its base
- Pus or yellowish discharge
- Foul-smelling odor
- Pain when touching the skin that surrounds the umbilical cord stump
The infection of the umbilical cord is called omphalitis and it can be life-threatening for your newborn if not resolved immediately. Once you notice any of these signs, inform your pediatrician so that he can check your baby and give treatment as necessary.
Do not cover or bind the umbilical cord.
In some traditional practices, the umbilical cord is wrapped with a piece of cloth that resembles a belt in the belief that it will prevent dirt from coming in or it will minimize gas build up in the stomach. Others put a coin and tape it on the umbilical cord stump to prevent bulging. All of these practices are not backed with scientific research and may even hinder the quick healing of your newborn’s umbilical cord.
Use cotton or light clothing for your baby.
This will maximize air circulation underneath your baby’s clothes and prevent further irritation of your baby’s umbilical cord stump.
How to clean the umbilical cord stump
You’ll need to keep the umbilical cord stump as dry as possible, but this might be misinterpreted by some parents and leave the area untouched even after it was soiled. Remember, you’ll need to clean the umbilical cord stump and prevent any dirt, urine or fecal material from contaminating the area. You may also need to remove any sticky or wet substances such as drops of blood or fluids that may ooze from the fresh cord. This way, you can promote umbilical cord healing and allow it to dry out more quickly. Some doctors even advice to clean the area a few times a day to make sure that it is free from dirt and sticky fluids.
So how are you going to clean it? Basically, there are two ways- one is using a 70% isopropyl alcohol and the other one is using plain water. The techniques in cleaning umbilical cord are mostly the same, only that you’ll be using different agents to clean the umbilical cord stump.
How to clean umbilical cord stump using alcohol or plain water
- Get a piece of cotton ball.
- Wet it using 70% isopropyl alcohol or plain water.
- Gently wipe the soiled area starting from the base then up to the cord stump itself.
- If the area is heavily soiled, replace the cotton ball with alcohol or water as needed. You may use a separate cotton ball for the base, then another one for the cord and its tip.
- Remember not to use too much force or pressure.
- Allow the umbilical cord stump to air dry.
Which is better, using alcohol or plain water for cord care?
Alcohol has been a widely-used antiseptic and it was traditionally used for newborn cord care to help keep the area clean and prevent infectious agents from entering the wound. However, latest research suggests that using alcohol has a little effect on preventing infection and almost the same as leaving the cord to dry from the air. Alcohol may also slightly delay the time when the umbilical cord will fall out because it will also get rid of the bacteria that will aid in wound healing.
That is why these days, some hospitals suggest dry cord care for infants wherein plain water is simply used to wipe out any dirt from the area.
However, one consideration in this practice is that the studies were more on high income hospitals and developed countries. So while many of the hospitals switched to dry cord care, others stick with alcohol cleansing just to err in the side of caution and prevent any infectious bacteria from entering the wounded site. In the end, it is best to follow your doctor’s instructions on how to keep the umbilical cord stump clean and dry.
When does the umbilical cord fall off?
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, a baby’s umbilical cord usually dries out and falls off on its own at around 1 to 2 weeks after birth. Though babies may slightly differ from one another, it is best to inform your doctor if your baby’s cord is still attached after 3 weeks of age. This way, your doctor may check for other issues that may be delaying the healing and drying of the cord.
Newborn belly button care
Once your baby’s umbilical cord falls off, the opening was supposed to heal and you’re baby is now ready for belly button care. However, don’t get overly excited because there are still some important reminders to ensure that you won’t harm your baby’s belly button while trying to clean it.
Do not pick the scab on the belly button.
After falling off, the umbilical cord stump may leave a scab that is similar to what you see when your own wounds are healing. No matter how tempting it may be, do not try to remove the scab. It will usually go away on its own after the area completely heals. Picking the scab will cause irritation and may introduce infection-causing bacteria to your baby’s belly button.
Gently clean the surrounding area only.
You may use a wet washcloth or a wet cotton ball to clean the surrounding area of your baby’s belly button. Be extra gentle in cleaning the area. You won’t need to scrub, use soap, or rub the area.
You may now clean it while bathing your baby.
After the umbilical cord stump has fallen off, you can now fully bathe your baby. You may clean your baby’s belly button while washing the rest of your baby’s body.
Other things to tell your doctor
Sometimes, instead of completely drying out, it will form a reddish and bulging scar tissue which may be left after the cord has fallen off. This is called umbilical granuloma and may also resolve on its own at around 7 days. If the granuloma does not heal, inform your pediatrician. It may need a procedure called cauterization to be totally removed from your baby’s belly button.
In addition, if you notice that the umbilical cord is bulging or seem to be pushed outwards if your baby is crying, inform your doctor so that it can be properly assessed.
There is a condition called umbilical hernia, wherein a small hole from the abdominal wall fails to heal and allows the abdominal tissues to be pushed outwards if the infant is crying or exerting pressure on the abdominal muscles. Umbilical hernia often goes away on its own for around 12 to 18 months, but it is best to have it checked for proper monitoring and treatment if necessary.
Newborn umbilical cord care is essential once you bring home your little one. You’ll need to keep your baby’s umbilical cord stump clean and dry to promote quick healing and allow it to fall off on its own. If you need assistance in cleaning or something is bothering you about the appearance of your baby’s umbilical cord, simply give your pediatrician a call. Your doctor will sure to glad to assist and give the most appropriate advice about caring for your newborn’s umbilical cord.
This article is for informational purposes only and should not be considered medical advice. Always consult with a doctor or licensed medical professional before making any medical decisions.