Caring for your baby’s umbilical cord

Here’s how to clean your baby’s umbilical cord stump to prevent infection and promote healing.

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We’re all familiar with the importance of the umbilical cord for our unborn baby: it connects the baby’s abdomen to the mother’s placenta, and its purpose is to transfer nutrients and oxygen from you to your baby. Your baby’s umbilical cord will first be clamped and then cut close to his body, leaving an umbilical stump.

Caring for the umbilical cord

  • The umbilical stump will begin to dry up and fall off within about 21 days, but it’s during this time that the stump needs to be taken care of and kept clean and dry all the time.
  • It’s important that you fold your baby’s nappy underneath the stump, so as not the cause friction against the nappy, and to prevent it from coming into contact with urine.
  • To speed up the drying out process, when the weather’s warm, let your baby wear a loose top and just a nappy so the cord is exposed to air. A one piece may rub against the stump so avoid these until it has come off.
  • It’s vital that you don’t try to pull the stump off, even when it’s hanging by a tiny piece of skin.
  • Some care givers suggest that you don’t bath your newborn until the stump has fallen off. Instead, try wiping his skin with a soft cloth or sponge.
  • Your doctor may recommend a medicinal cream that will assist in drying out the cord and keeping it clean, or you can clean the base of the stump using an ear bud or cotton pad that has been dipped in a little rubbing alcohol (alcohol used medicinally for topical application), which can be done once or twice a day.

Warning signs to look out for

It’s important to contact your physician if you notice any of the following problems with your newborn’s stump:

  • Bleeding from the end of the cord or the area near the skin
  • Any discharge that may appear
  • Swelling or redness around the navel
  • A bacterial infection around the stump
  • Separation of the umbilical cord after three weeks
  • A red streak running from the navel
  • A high fever above 38.0°C.

If your baby’s stump isn’t healing, a procedure called ‘sealing’ can be done. It’s so simple that even a nurse can do it, and it won’t hurt your baby at all.

Read more about your baby’s first medical visits here.

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