Umbilical Cord Care

The umbilical cord provided nourishment to your baby throughout your pregnancy. Now he or she has a purplish-blue stump that is about a half inch to an inch long. It will take some time (approximately 2 weeks but occasionally up to 8 weeks) before the stump dries up and falls off. It will take a little care and attention to ensure that both infection and irritation are avoided.

How do I Care for my Baby's Umbilical Cord?

  • Keep the area clean. Some pediatricians recommend cleaning the base of the cord with rubbing alcohol after every diaper change. Other pediatricians prefer that the stump is left completely alone, because alcohol is believed to irritate the skin and sometimes delays healing. Other alternative methods in caring for your baby's cord include the use of Goldenseal Root and Echinacea. It is best to consult your child's pediatrician for his/her recommendation.
  • Keep the area dry. Allow the cord to be exposed to air as often as possible. This allows the base of the cord to dry and will decrease the amount of time that is required for healing to occur. Using newborn diapers that have a special cut out or folding your baby's diaper down will help keep the cord from being irritated. If weather permits, dress your baby in a t-shirt and diaper only to allow more time for the cord to dry out.
  • Only give sponge baths. Do not bathe your baby in a sink or special tub until after the umbilical cord has fallen off.
  • Allow the cord to heal naturally. It may be tempting to "help" the cord dry out and fall off especially if it appears to be hanging on by a thread, but it is best to allow this to happen naturally. Refrain from picking and pulling the cord off.

What are the Signs of Infection?

  • Base of the cord appears red or swollen
  • Continues to bleed
  • Oozes yellowish or white pus
  • Produces a foul smelling discharge
  • Seems painful to your baby

When Should I call my Baby's Pediatrician?

  • If there are signs of infection
  • If the cord is actively bleeding. This normally occurs if the cord is pulled off prematurely. Active bleeding is defined as when a drop of blood is wiped away another drop appears.

What is an Umbilical Granuloma?

This is characterized by a small nodule of firm pinkish-red tissue (similar to scar tissue) with persistent yellow-green drainage but it is not accompanied by swelling, redness, warmth, tenderness, or a fever. Many times this will go away in a week with the frequent application of rubbing alcohol, or your child's pediatrician can treat this in the office by cauterizing the area. Cauterization includes applying silver nitrate to the area, which burns the tissue. There are no nerve endings in the area, so it is not painful. Liquid nitrogen can also be used to freeze the area. A surgical thread can be tied around the base of the granuloma, which causes it to die and fall off.

Can I ensure that my baby has an "innie"?

There is no way to predict whether you child will have an "innie" or an "outie." Many people believe that taping a coin or other flat object over the navel will help ensure their child has an "innie," but this is not true.

Reprinted with permission from American Pregnancy Association.