Throughout your pregnancy, you were intimately connected to your baby via the umbilical cord. This amazing combination of two arteries, a vein, gelatinous material called Wharton’s jelly and a very tough outer membrane, delivered the nutrient-rich, oxygenated blood your baby needed to grow and develop.

Once a baby is born, the umbilical cord is cut – leaving behind a small “stump” that will fall off on its own within the first one or two weeks (and sometimes up to 21 days).

Umbilical Cord Dos and Don’ts

This remaining cord material is connected to your baby’s tender tummy and internal tissues, so it requires extra special care to keep the remaining cord intact and to prevent infection.

Here are some of the Dos and DON’Ts that will keep the cord stump healthy until its ready to fall out on its own.

1. DO keep the area clean and dry

Doctors used to recommend cleaning the area around the cord stump with alcohol. This is no longer the case since this seems to create more irritation than necessary. Even the AAP has changed its tune on this one stating, “Infants born in hospitals or in high-resource countries should not have antimicrobial agents applied to the umbilical cord.”

Instead, physicians recommend keeping the area clean and dry – sponge bathing the area around it with water and a very mild baby-safe soap if needed.

2. DON’T let it become abraded or rubbed by diaper bandsumbilical cord care

Most newborn diapers are made with a little U-shaped cut-out to accommodate the cord stump. You can also fold the diaper edge back a couple of times or cut notches yourself to prevent the stump area from being abraded or over-rubbed – which causes irritation or pain for your baby.

3. DO let it air out from time to time

If weather/temperature permits, allow the umbilical stump to air out from time to time. You can let your baby enjoy some naked time or don him/her in a loose t-shirt and a cord-accommodating diaper that allows air to circulate around the belly button. This facilitates the natural drying out process.

4. DON’T submerge the baby for his/her bath until the cord has fallen off

Submerging your baby in a sink or bath will make the stump soggy and can prolong the cord’s stay – and can also increase chances of infection. Instead, sponge bathe your baby as needed until the cord has fallen away completely.

5. DO know the signs of infection (what’s normal and what’s not)

The cord may show some minor signs of yellowing or off-colored discharge, and it will probably smell slightly unpleasant before it completely dries out – but this is normal. The following are signs of potential infection and signal the need for a check-in with your healthcare provider:

  • Your baby cries when the cord or the skin around it is touched
  • The skin around the cord’s base becomes redder than normal or swollen
  • The area continues to bleed (a little blood, in the beginning, is normal, but this shouldn’t continue or increase over time)
  • It oozes yellowish or white pus

It’s always best to err on the safe side so don’t hesitate to contact your midwife, OB and/or pediatrician if you have concerns. In today’s digital age, it’s easy to snap a picture and send it via your healthcare portal to gain an immediate professional opinion.

6. DON’T rush it along in any way

Never be tempted to pull, push or otherwise manipulate the umbilical cord stump to rush it along; this can hurt your baby and puts it at risk of infection. Even when the cord is hanging by a dry thread, you should leave it to fall off on its own.

Have questions about the progression of your baby’s umbilical cord care? Contact us here at Overlake OB/GYN.