What to Know About Your Baby's Umbilical Cord

When you’re a new parent, you have lots to figure out. But one thing you might not have thought about is your baby’s umbilical cord. This is the tube-like structure that carries food and oxygen from you to your baby while you’re pregnant. It also carries waste products away from the baby so your body can get rid of them.

After you give birth, doctors clamp and cut the cord. It has no nerves, so neither you nor your baby will feel anything. A small stump will be left on your child’s belly. It can be anywhere from a half-inch to an inch long.

Caring for Baby’s Umbilical Cord Stump

Be gentle. Keep your hands off of it and don’t ever pull on it.

At first, the stump might look shiny and yellow. But as it dries out, it may turn brown or gray or even purplish or blue. It’ll shrivel and turn black before it falls off on its own.

How long will that take? Usually, it comes off between 10 and 14 days after your baby is born, but can take as long as 21 days.

Keep the cord clean and dry at all times. Skip the tub and sink and give your baby sponge baths instead.

In the past, doctors suggested cleaning the cord’s base with rubbing alcohol to help it dry out. Now, they recommend leaving it alone until it falls off by itself.

When your baby has a super-messy bowel movement, some stool may get on the cord. If that happens, clean it gently with soap and water.

When you put diapers on your baby, fold them so that they rest below the cord. That’ll shield it from your little one’s pee. You might want to look for those that have an area cut out for the cord. You can also cut a spot out of a regular diaper. Just place a piece of tape around it to seal the edges.

Check the cord often for infections. Call your doctor if you see:

  • Blood on the end of the cord
  • A white or yellow discharge
  • Swelling or redness around the cord
  • Signs that the area around the cord causes your baby pain (for example, he cries when you touch it)


What Happens When the Stump Comes Off?

It’s normal to see a few drops of blood in your baby’s diaper. But if there’s a lot of blood as the cord separates, call your doctor right away.

If the cord hasn’t come off after 3 weeks, be patient. Keep the area dry and make sure it’s not covered by your child’s diaper. If it hasn’t come off in 6 weeks, or you see signs of fever or infection, call your doctor.

Once the cord is gone, continue to keep the area clean and dry. You might notice a yellow, sticky fluid that oozes out. This is normal. It sometimes happens when the cord comes off. It’s not pus, and it’s not an infection.

You might also see a scab over the navel. This is normal, too. But if your baby’s stomach gets red, he runs a fever, or you notice a cloudy discharge, call your doctor.

Sometimes, a little scar tissue may form a red mass on the belly button. This bump is called an umbilical granuloma. If you see this and it doesn’t go away in about a week, let your doctor know. She’ll apply silver nitrate to it. It’ll burn the area so the tissue dries up. But remember, the cord has no nerves, so your baby won’t feel it.

At some point, you’ll probably wonder what kind of belly button your child will have. Will it be an “innie” or an “outie”? You’ll have to wait until the stump is gone to know for sure. But know that the way your baby’s navel will look has nothing to do with how the doctor cut the umbilical cord.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on October 16, 2018



National Health Service in England: “What is the Umbilical Cord?”

Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia: “Umbilical Cord Care,” “Umbilical Hernia.”

American Pregnancy Association: “Umbilical Cord Care.”

Children’s Hospital Colorado, “Umbilical Cord Symptoms.”

American Academy of Pediatrics: “Umbilical Cord Care.”

Seattle Children’s Hospital: “Should Your Child See a Doctor? Umbilical Cord Symptoms.”

Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital: “Innies vs. ‘Outies’.”

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