The umbilical cord connects between the baby and the mother’s placenta to supply the baby with nourishment and oxygen during the pregnancy. After the baby is born, the cord is no longer required, and the midwife will clamp it in a way that doesn’t hurt the baby at all. After this painless procedure, an umbilical stump will be left, attached to your baby’s belly button.
In the first few days, the stump will change its color from bluish-white to black while it dries up. Finally, the stump will drop off, usually between a week to three weeks.
There are a few things to know about how to take care of the umbilical cord stump until it drops off:
Keep the stump clean - it is important to keep it clean in order to help it drop off and not get infected. In the past, parents were advised to clean the stump with alcohol, but the protocols were changed according to the new guidelines of the AAP. The guidelines were updated because it was found that this treatment with alcohol caused a delay in the drop off of the stump but didn’t decrease the risk of infection. It is recommended to gently clean the stump with water and dry it well but gently.
Keep the stump dry - it is recommended to avoid tub baths in the first few days, and instead clean the baby with a sponge. If you decide to bath the baby, make sure you dry the area well.
Fold your baby’s diaper away from the stump, so it will remain clean and dry. When possible, it is recommended to expose the stump to air and not dress the baby in too many tight layers.
Don’t attempt to pull off the stump, even though it is tempting when it seems to be hanging by a thread.
When should you consult your doctor?
An infection of the umbilical cord is rare, but it is important to know its signs. If there is an infection, your baby will probably cry whenever you touch the stump or the skin at its base. The skin around the stump turns red and there is a foul smell. Sometimes, you can also notice a yellowish discharge at the area of the stump. If these signs appear - it is important to seek medical consultation.
Sometimes, after the stump falls off, you may notice a few drops of blood which is normal. If the bleeding doesn’t stop - seek medical help.
Last updated: May 2017
Authors - Dr. Yair Sadaka MD Ph.D., pediatrician, Pediatric neurologist