How to care for your newborn’s umbilical cord

‘Cutting the cord’ is traditional way to get your partner involved in the birth.  But what is the cord? The umbilical cord is your baby’s lifeline until birth and after birth; the umbilical cord and placenta are no longer needed. Cutting the cord doesn’t hurt your little one (Phew!), as there are no nerves inside it. Once the cord has been cut, your baby will be left with a little cord stump.

It’s important to care for your little one’s umbilical cord stump to ensure that it is clean to avoid any risk of infection before it falls off. It’ll fall off naturally in its own time once it has died out.

Your gorgeous newborn will have a plastic clamp or tie that has been kept in sterile packaging on the stump and it will remain there until the stump has dried and sealed or has fallen off. (The World Health Organization recommends sterilising material used for cord clamping when possible).

Once the cord has been cut, leaving a stump behind, it can take anywhere between 5 – 14 days for it to completely fall off. Although sometimes it can take longer but don’t worry, it will fall off in its own time.

After birth the cord begins to dry and harden, becoming frail. The stump will turn yellow-green, then brown and finally black and it should come away by itself.

Keeping the umbilical cord area dry and clean is the best way to avoid infection. Normal bacteria will inhabit the  area and you may see some sticky fluid or even a small amount of pus at the base of the stump. Air exposure helps to speed the natural separation process. You might like to give your baby nappy free time as much as possible, or by simply folding down your baby’s nappy so that the stump is exposed to the air will also help and can prevent the area being rubbed.

It is best to only use water when cleaning the area around the stump rather than any antiseptics. Using antiseptics has been shown to delay stump separation as it kills off the good bacteria that are needed as part of the process.

It is safe for the area to get wet as it won’t increase infection or delay separation. Always make sure the area dries properly after a bath.

When caring for the umbilical cord stump:

  • Always wash your hands before touching the area to prevent transferring bacteria to the cord stump
  • If anything gets on the cord stump (like poo or wee), wash it off carefully with water
  • Never pull on the cord stump although you may notice eventually it becomes quite loose and barely attached
  • Fold down nappies and clothes to avoid rubbing and allow air circulation
  • Make sure clothes that are touching the area are kept clean

Signs of Infection

It’s very rare for a cord stump to become infected.  But keep an eye out for the below;

  • Red, swollen appearance at the base of the stump
  • Excess, oozing pus or any smelly discharge (it’s normal for the stump to smell a little)
  • Bleeding from the stump (dried blood is normal)
  • Any signs of fever or pain in your baby. Speak to your health care professional  if you have any concerns about your baby’s cord stump.

When the stump finally falls off you might not even notice and get a cute little belly button surprise during your next nappy change! Outie or Innie, the area might take another few days or weeks to completely heal after the stump has fallen off so just keep it dry and clean as much as possible.

If you’re a first time parent, it might seem that a newborn is full of hygiene surprises you never thought of before. While caring for a cord stump can feel like new territory, luckily it only lasts but a few days or weeks. And just focus on that cute belly button you’ll be seeing very soon!