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Caring for Your Newborn’s Umbilical Cord

Monday, February 15, 2021

Caring for your newborn’s umbilical cord may seem daunting but it is actually quite simple. All you have to do is keep it clean and dry.

In this post we’ll explain why your baby has an cord, how to care for it and what to watch for as it detaches.

Why newborns have an umbilical cord

Baby receives oxygen and nutrients through the umbilical cord.

Your baby received oxygen and nutrients through the umbilical cord throughout your pregnancy. At birth, the cord was clamped and cut, leaving only a short stump. The cord stump initially looks white and shiny but as it dries, it turns a dark brown or black color.

How to care for the umbilical cord

In past decades, treatments such as rubbing alcohol or gentian violet were used to dry the cord. Recent research, however, has shown that keeping the cord clean and dry is all that is needed.

• Fold down the front of the diaper to expose the cord to air. This will help it to fall off faster.

Umbilical cord care is all about keeping the cord clean and dry.

• If the cord is damp, it can develop a foul, rotten smell. If you notice a bad odor, use cotton swabs to dry inside the baby’s umbilical area, right at the base of the cord. It may take several cotton swabs to completely dry the area.

• If the cord becomes soiled, clean it with plain water, pat it dry and use cotton swabs as described above.

• As the cord begins to detach, you may notice a drop or two of blood on your  baby’s diaper. This is a sign the cord will soon fall off. A spot of blood, less than a quarter coin size, is considered normal. Don’t pull on the cord, even if it looks like it is hanging on by a thread.

• The cord stump should fall off by the time baby is 10 – 14 days old, sometimes sooner if it is kept clean and dry.

Note: Although it may look sore, there are no pain receptors in the umbilical cord. Drying the cord will not hurt your baby.

umbilical cord care

When to be concerned

Take your baby to see you healthcare provider if you notice any of the following:

• Baby’s cord continues to ooze, leaving quarter sized or larger spots of blood on the diaper.

• The skin around the umbilicus is reddened, swollen or warm to touch

• A thick “pus” coming from the base of cord

• Baby has a fever or seems unwell

Although umbilical cord care may seem overwhelming, it’s actually quite simple. Keep the cord dry and it will fall off in only a few days.

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As Registered Nurses and International Board Certified Lactation Consultants, we’ve helped over 30,000 new families settle in with their newborn.

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References:

  1. “Caring for Your Baby’s Umbilical Cord Area.” Healthy Families BC, 2013, www.healthyfamiliesbc.ca/home/articles/caring-your-babys-umbilical-cord-area.
  2. Kids, Caring for. “Your Baby’s Skin.” Caring for Kids, 2017, www.caringforkids.cps.ca/handouts/your-babys-skin.
  3. “Umbilical Cord Care: Do’s and Don’ts for Parents.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 17 Feb. 2018, www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/infant-and-toddler-health/in-depth/umbilical-cord/art-20048250.

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