Your Baby’s Umbilical Cord

From the WebMD Archives

Consider the poignant story of your baby's umbilical cord. For nine months it faithfully served as your baby's lifeline. It provided him with oxygen, with nutrients, with life itself.

Now -- forgotten, unappreciated, unloved -- you can't wait for it to shrivel up like a raisin and just go away. So before we discuss its care, how about a heartfelt and gratefulthanks to your baby's umbilical cord for a job well done.

Cutting the Umbilical Cord

After the cord is cut, you will see a gelatinous stump with three small blood vessels in the middle. Since there is no longer a blood supply to nourish it, the umbilical cord stump will begin to dry up and wither away. In one to three weeks (six weeks is Dr. P's record), it will fall off completely, leaving your baby's adorable belly button as the only proof of its past existence (Dr P is not going to discuss whether Adam had a navel).

Caring for the Umbilical Cord Stump

Infection of the area around the umbilical cord stump is the main concern. To help prevent infections:

  • Keep the cord clean. Although we used to recommend washing with alcohol, studies showed it doesn't really help and may slow down the cord's falling off. Gentle cleansing with soap and water is fine.
  • Keep the cord dry. Keep the upper fold of the diaper always below the cord. Pat the cord dry with a cloth should it get wet and after baths.
    • Some pediatric providers recommend only sponge baths until the cord falls off. Others say a full bath is fine, as long as the cord is thoroughly dried afterwards. Since there are no scientific studies to support either position, follow your pediatric provider's advice.

You may also notice your baby is an "outie." This may be an umbilical hernia, meaning the area around the navel sticks out because of weak muscles around the belly button. This never causes pain nor trouble, and it often goes away on its own. (FYI: Trying to fix it by taping a coin over it is, alas, an old wives' tale).

After the cord falls off you may see a bit of scraggly tissue in the belly button. This may be an umbilical granuloma, which is a harmless growth of tissue your pediatric provider can easily get rid of.

When to Worry

Contact your pediatric provider ASAP should any signs of infection appear:

  • Yellowish, stinky drainage (= pus)
  • Redness around the belly button
  • Tenderness to the touch
  • Fever
  • If there is persistent discharge and swelling after the cord has fallen off.
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