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Baby umbilical cord
newborns

The ins and outs of umbilical cord care

Marie-Louise: expert midwife and author

8 minutes

09/14/2021

Modern Midwife, Marie-Louise, gives the lowdown on umbilical cord care including info on bathing your baby & cleaning the umbilical cord stub.

  1. What is the umbilical cord?

  2. When and why doctors cut the umbilical cord?

  3. When does the umbilical cord fall off?

  4. How do I care for the umbilical stump?

  5. Can I give my baby a bath before the umbilical stump falls off?

  6. What might signal a problem when waiting for the stump to fall off?

  7. What do I do once the umbilical cord falls off?

  8. What happens if the umbilical cord is not falling off?

  9. Are there any other problems related to umbilical cords that I should be aware of?

1. What is the umbilical cord?

An umbilical cord is a truly amazing thing – a way for a mum to supply nutrients and oxygen to her baby as it grows in the womb. If you have chosen to cut the cord after birth, it’s important to know how we care for your baby’s cord stump and healing umbilicus once it’s fallen off. Here I’ll share the advice that I give new parents about the best umbilical cord care.

2. When and why do doctors cut the umbilical cord?

The umbilical cord plays a vital role during pregnancy but once you have given birth your baby will start to adapt to life outside the womb and breathe independently. Once the cord has stopped pulsating your care provider will offer to cut the cord and clamp it. This leaves behind what’s known as a cord stump.1

3. When does the umbilical cord fall off?

The umbilical stump will darken and dry out and will typically fall off by itself within one to three weeks after a baby is born. Try not to hurry the process or handle the cord and instead let nature run its course.2

4. How do I care for the umbilical stump?2

I have three easy suggestions for parents:

  • Keep the stump clean and dry but avoid using alcohol or ointments unless you’ve been advised to by your healthcare provider. Air should do the trick!

  • Fold your baby’s diaper down in the front to avoid discomfort and give the stump proper exposure to air

  • Do not pull the stump off yourself, pick at the area or try to pry it loose. If you notice any irritation, inflammation or discharge – don’t clean it away, speak to your healthcare provider

5. Can I give my baby a bath before the umbilical stump falls off?

It’s best to avoid fully immersing your baby in water until the cord has come off which will help to avoid disruption of the natural flora. If you would like to clean your baby within those first few weeks, it may be easier to carefully top and tail your baby as you can make sure you keep the stump area dry during the first few weeks of life. You could use a soft sponge, a gentle wipe or a wipe with minimal ingredients, like WaterWipes, as they have been proven to be purer than cloth and water. If you notice any irritation, discharge around the cord area and umbilical stump, don’t clean this away – be sure to speak to your healthcare professional, as it could be a sign of infection. Find out more information about how to bathe your newborn baby.

6. What might signal a problem when waiting for the stump to fall off?

Light bleeding after clamping shouldn’t be overly concerning, but do not hesitate to tell a midwife or healthcare provider if you notice any discharge or more significant bleeding. Look for excess redness, an unpleasant smell, swelling or a red lump close to the stump, which could be signs of an umbilical cord infection or a newborn granuloma, an overgrowth of tissue that results from the umbilical healing process. This is an especially important watch-out after the umbilical cord falls off.2

7. What do I do once the umbilical cord falls off?

When the umbilical cord falls off, the most important thing to do is simply, keep the belly button clean and dry to promote healing. To avoid rubbing and contamination of pee or poop, keep the area free of restrictive clothing and continue to fold the front of the diaper down. Again, you can use a gentle baby wipe or a wipe with minimal ingredients, like WaterWipes to cleanse your baby all over, but if you see any signs that the wound isn’t healing don’t clean this away, contact your baby’s healthcare provider.

8. What happens if the umbilical cord is not falling off?

Firstly, be patient. Every baby is different, and some umbilical cords may take longer to fall off than others. But, if the cord shows no signs of separating after three weeks, talk to your healthcare provider. A stump that is not falling off may be a sign of an underlying infection or immune system disorder.

9. Are there any other problems related to umbilical cords that I should be aware of?

You may have heard of an umbilical hernia, which is not related specifically to the umbilical cord but the area at large.3 These hernias may look more serious than they are. With an umbilical hernia, a baby’s intestine penetrates the muscles near their bellybutton, and that can result in a noticeable bulge in the abdomen that typically resolves itself by age two but will need to be reviewed by a doctor.

Umbilical cord separation is not just a universal experience, but one of the most natural things a newborn baby’s body does. Be assured that in most cases, nature takes its course – and all you need to do is be patient, gentle and aware.

Be sure to look at our other in-depth articles on common baby skin conditions and baby advice on our Parenting Community, like the below:

About WaterWipes
WaterWipes are the world’s purest baby wipes, made with just two ingredients, 99.9% purified water and a drop of fruit extract. They are proven to be purer than cloth and water. Discover more about our product range or find out where to buy WaterWipes.
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About the Author

Marie-Louise: expert midwife and author

Midwife Marie-Louise

Marie-Louise, the Modern Midwife, is an expert midwife and author. Alongside her professional interest, Marie-Louise has personal experience of going through the fourth trimester and now has a 1-year old daughter. She has been regularly documenting her experiences of parenthood on her Instagram the_modern_midwife.

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