What Is an Umbilical Cord?
The umbilical cord is the tube-like structure that carries food and oxygen from a mother to their baby while pregnant. It also carries waste products away from the baby so the mother’s body can get rid of them.
After you give birth, doctors clamp and cut the cord. The cord 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.
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.
Usually, it comes off between 10 and 14 days after your baby is born, but can take as long as 21 days.
Caring for Baby’s Umbilical Cord Stump
Here are a few things to keep in mind until the cord comes off:
- Be gentle. Keep your hands off of it, and don’t ever pull on it.
- Keep the cord clean and dry at all times. Skip the tub and sink and give your baby sponge baths instead.
- Leave the cord alone until it falls off by itself. (In the past, doctors suggested cleaning the cord’s base with rubbing alcohol to help it dry out, but that guidance has changed.)
- Fold diapers so that they rest below the cord to shield it from your little one’s pee. You can look for diapers that have an area cut out for the cord or 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, they cry when you touch it)
If your baby had a low birth weight because they were born prematurely or had another health issue, they may be more likely to have an infection, so it’s good to keep an especially close eye out for any of these signs.
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.
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. They’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.
Umbilical Cord Complications
They don’t happen often, but some health conditions are linked to the umbilical cord stump, including:
- Omphalitis: This is when the area around the stump of the umbilical cord gets infected. Symptoms can include tenderness, bleeding or fluid leaking from the navel, irritability, and fever. It needs treatment with antibiotics.
- Umbilical hernia: With this condition, part of the baby’s intestine pokes through the muscles near their belly button. It’s not usually serious and typically gets better on its own by age 2.
Umbilical granuloma: This is a small, pinkish-red lump that doesn’t fall off when the rest of the umbilical cord does. It doesn’t hurt, and your baby’s doctor can remove it by tying it off with stitches or freezing it with liquid nitrogen.