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Your baby’s umbilical cord is cut after birth. The stump that remains may look daunting at first—it will likely look gooey and yellowish—but caring for it is simpler than it looks.

First, it’s important to keep the stump and the surrounding skin clean and dry.  This helps prevent infection. Good attention to hygiene will also help your baby’s navel heal more quickly. Over the first few weeks, the stump will gradually dry, darken, and fall off. This usually happens within two weeks after birth, though it may take as long as four. Let it detach naturally without any pulling.

Gentle cleaning and exposure to air will help the process. Doctors usually recommend cleaning the umbilical cord about once a day at bath time. Sponge baths are best until the stump falls off so it doesn’t get too wet.

Gently wipe around the stump using a little mild, unscented soap on a soft, damp cloth. Wipe again with plain water and lightly pat the area dry rather than rubbing. The same goes for between baths—wash your hands, then wipe away any dirt or wet, sticky substances, and gently pat or fan the area dry. It was once thought that cleaning the area with alcohol several times a day was beneficial to healing, but researchers now say that the stump may heal faster if left alone. Topical antibiotic ointments are not necessary as they may delay healing of the cord.

To expose the baby’s stump to better airflow, you can fold the front of your baby’s diaper down to allow the stump to “breathe.” You might also try cutting away a little section of the diaper before putting it on. Dress your baby in cotton to improve air circulation.

Call your pediatrician if you suspect an infection or notice any of these signs:

  • Pus around the base of the stump
  • Red, tender skin around the stump
  • Your baby crying when you touch the area
  • A rectal temperature of 100.4 or greater
  • Fluid oozing from the navel for more than two days after the stump falls off
  • Swelling and moistness for more than two weeks after the stump falls off

Reviewed by Dr. Sara Connolly, August 2019

Takeaways

  • Keep your baby’s umbilical cord stump clean and dry.
  • Use only water and mild soap to gently clean the stump, and don’t immerse it in water.
  • Expose your baby’s umbilical cord to the air as much as possible—folding or cutting diapers can help.

References

  1. Ness MJ, Davis DM, Carey WA. Neonatal skin care: a concise review. Int J Dermatol . 2013 Jan;52(1):14-22.
  2. Zupan J, Garner P, Omari AAA. Topical umbilical cord care at birth. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2007, Issue 4. Art. No.: CD001057. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD001057.pub2.

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