Taking care of your newborn's umbilical stump

Healthcare   |   Age: 2 days

Taking care of your newborn's umbilical stump

The umbilical cord connected your baby to the placenta during gestation, but after birth, the umbilical cord is clamped and cut, leaving the umbilical stump. The stump may not be your baby's cutest feature, but just remember that it will fall off on its own about 1 to 3 weeks after birth.

High and dry

The most important part of caring for the umbilical stump is keeping the area clean and dry. Until the stump falls off, you should give your baby sponge baths, and clean around the stump during bath time, but try to avoid getting it wet.

Exposing the umbilical stump to air is very important because it keeps the area dry and helps your baby heal faster. If it's warm enough, your baby should wear just a t-shirt and a diaper until the stump falls off. If she needs to wear multiple layers, always make sure that the clothing is loose and breathable.

Because the stump is easily irritated, be sure that waistbands or diapers don't rub against the healing site. Many newborn diapers have a cut-out area that leaves space for the umbilical cord. Diapers without the cut-out can be folded down to leave the same space.

Does healing hurt?

While it is important to be careful, the healing umbilical stump is not painful for your baby. There is no need to worry about holding her against your chest, so you can continue with skin-to-skin contact. As the stump begins to dry up and become loose, don’t pull it or pick at it, though. It’s important that the stump falls off naturally, when it’s ready to.

Things to watch out for

Occasionally, the umbilical stump does not heal properly. Be aware that redness, swelling, oozing, and odor are all signs that an infection is present, as are more generalized symptoms like fever, fussiness, and vomiting. Contact the doctor if this happens. Occasionally, a small amount of silver nitrate is applied to the base of the stump to cauterize areas that are oozing. This turns treated areas grayish-black, but significantly quickens the drying and healing process.

After the stump falls off, it is normal to see some pus at the base. This does not mean the area is infected. You may see a bit of blood on the top of your baby’s diaper, which is also nothing to worry about. If your baby’s belly button has a few flakes of dried blood or crustiness, it can be cleaned out gently with a Q-tip dipped in hydrogen peroxide or water. Just like when the stump was still attached, watch for swelling, redness, oozing, a foul smell, and generalized symptoms of infection like fever, nausea, or loss of appetite. Any concerns should be addressed with your baby's pediatrician.

When will the stump be fully healed?

To minimize the risk of infection, be sure to keep the area clean and dry. While your baby will be able to take a bath after the stump falls off, it is important to dry that area thoroughly afterwards as the stump heals. Expect another 7 to 10 days of healing after the stump falls off. This may seem like a long process, but be patient and your baby’s umbilical stump will be gone and healed before you know it.


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