How to Clean an Umbilical Cord Stump on a Newborn Baby
Your baby’s umbilical cord gets cut immediately after they’re born, leaving a small umbilical stump that’s usually ½ to 1 inch long.Because they no longer need their umbilical cord, your newborn’s stump falls off after about 1-3 weeks.In the meantime, it’s important to keep your baby’s umbilical stump clean and dry to prevent infection and irritated skin. Until the cord stump falls off on its own, clean your newborn's stump gently with plain water and let it dry thoroughly.
Bathing Your Newborn
Wash your hands before touching the stump.Prevent infection by washing your hands before and after touching your baby’s cord stump. Use warm to hot water and antibacterial soap, and lather your hands well for at least 30 seconds. Rinse off all the soap and use a clean towel to dry your hands, or let them air dry.
Give your baby sponge baths.Until your baby’s stump falls off, avoid submerging their belly button in water in a tub or sink. Clean your newborn by giving them a sponge bath, and clean the stump every time you give your baby a bath or if it gets dirty from urine or poo.
- Set your baby on their back on their changing station or on a clean, soft towel.
- Keep in mind that you should leave the stump alone as much as possible, so you don't need to worry about washing it except during bath times and when urine or feces gets on it.
Use lukewarm, plain water.Fill a clean bowl with warm water. Check the temperature on the skin of your wrist before using it on your baby. It should be warm but not hot.
Swab the stump from bottom to top.Dip a cotton swab in the water. Gently wipe the stump starting at the base and wiping up to the top. Use a fresh cotton swab when you start back at the cord’s base.
Dry the stump gently but completely.It’s important to dry the umbilical stump and surrounding area really well. Either fan the area with a piece of paper or a cloth until it’s dry, or hold a clean cloth around the stump to dry it.
- Dab the area around the stump dry. Don’t rub it.
- Keep the stump exposed to air until it is completely dry.
Let the stump get a lot of air.Avoid covering up your baby’s stump – keep it exposed to air so it heals faster. Fold the top of their diaper down, or cut a notch in the top of the diaper around the stump.
- Some brands of newborn diapers have a pre-cut notch for the cord stump.
- Dress your newborn in light clothing in warm weather, like a t-shirt. Choose loose-fitting clothes to allow for air circulation and better drying.
Following Safety Guidelines
Look for signs of infection.It’s normal to see a little dried blood or a little bit of white or yellow crust around the cord stump, and for it to bleed a little bit when the stump falls off. However, look for signs that the stump is infected every time you bathe your baby. If any signs of infection are present, take your baby to the doctor right away – an infected cord can cause serious problems. Look for:
- Pus (sticky white, yellow, or green goo oozing from or near the cord)
- Redness or swelling in the skin around the cord
- A bad smell coming from the cord base
- Continuous bleeding, like if you wipe away a drop of blood and another drop appears
- Changes in your baby’s demeanor, like they’re more fussy, lethargic, or have a fever
Don’t pull off the stump.Every baby is different, and how long it takes the cord stump to fall off will vary. Resist the urge to pull the cord off, even if it looks like it’s about to fall off. It’s healthier and safer to let the stump fall off naturally.
- It’s normal for the cord stump to change color from whitish blue to black as it dries.
- The stump might take longer to fall off if your baby was born premature.
- Take your baby to see their doctor if the cord hasn’t fallen off after 21 days.
Skip the rubbing alcohol.Parents used to clean the baby’s umbilical stump with rubbing alcohol, but now standard practice is to skip the alcohol. This may help the baby’s stump to heal more quickly, and their skin is less likely to get dry or irritated.
Ask your pediatrician before using alternate products.Some parents use Goldenseal root or Echinacea in the cleaning process. If you want to use any products to clean your baby’s stump, talk to your baby’s doctor first. Plain water is usually recommended, but you can use another product if it’s approved by your doctor and they instruct you on proper use.
Continue to keep your baby’s belly button clean after the cord falls off.Once the cord falls off you can bathe your baby in a tub, if you take proper precautions. Continue to be gentle when cleaning your baby’s belly button. Never leave your baby unattended in the bath.
- There’s no way to control whether your baby has an “innie” or an “outie” belly button. Don’t try to press on their belly button or tape something over it.
- Don't panic, you won't hurt your baby. Treat the cord stump gently, but don’t be afraid to touch it – the cord stump doesn’t have nerves and your baby won’t feel it.
Video: 30 Umbilical Cord Care
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