Family Health

How to Care for Your Newborn's Umbilical Cord Stump

It’s one thing that “freaks out” many new parents a little bit. That little stump on their newborn baby’s tummy from the umbilical cord. 

It’s weird. It gets crusty. And then it … falls off? Does it hurt?

I get a lot of questions from new moms and dads about caring for the umbilical cord stump. So let’s take a moment to appreciate baby’s little button.

What’s the deal with the umbilical cord anyway?

The umbilical cord connects the fetus to the placenta, and it is responsible for providing oxygen and nutrients to your baby while in the womb. It also passes along some important antibodies that can protect baby from illness. 

Once your little one is born, however, the cord is no longer needed. Shortly after birth, it will be clamped and cut off. There are no nerve endings in your baby’s cord, so it doesn’t hurt when it is cut. What’s left attached to your baby is called the umbilical stump, and it will soon fall off to reveal an adorable belly button. 

How long will it take for the umbilical cord stump to fall off?

The stump usually falls off in the first week or two after your baby is born. During the first couple of days, the stump looks yellow and wet. As it dries out, the color changes to brown or black and it will shrivel up. This part sometimes freaks new parents out, but it's just part of the process! 

When the stump falls off, you may notice a little bit of blood or fluid, which is almost always normal. It may take a few more days for the area to completely dry out. 

What do I do with that area until the umbilical cord stump falls off?

The idea of caring for the umbilical cord stump can be intimidating for new parents until I tell them that their biggest job is to leave it alone! We used to recommend applying alcohol to the base of the stump, but that was found to delay the process of the cord falling off. Now it is recommended that you keep the area as clean and dry as possible. 

Baby should receive only sponge baths until the stump falls off. If it does happen to get dirty, just dab it with a wet washcloth and let it air dry. And for those of you who like to pick at things, resist the urge to pull the stump or scab off, even if it is attached only by a thread!

What are signs that there may be a problem?

Most umbilical cord stumps fall off on their own without any problems. Rarely, a stump can become infected or fails to fall off on its own. Here are some reasons you should contact your baby’s doctor:

  • Signs of infection, including redness around the base of the stump or foul-smelling discharge
  • Your baby cries when that area is touched
  • The area continues to bleed after the cord falls off
  • The stump hasn’t fallen off after three or four weeks

If you have questions or concerns, don’t hesitate to reach out to your Methodist Physicians Clinic pediatrician.

About the Author

Pediatrician Dr. Emily Bendlin has always had a passion for working with kids and parents.

Not one to steer clear of difficult cases, she wakes up every morning ready to take on new challenges that await her at Methodist Physicians Clinic.

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