Umbilical cord facts
The cord will normally fall off in one to three weeks after birth. The average cord falls off between 10 and 14 days with 21 days being the higher side of normal.
- Normally, cords do not need any special treatment. Just keep them dry (called natural drying). Cords need to dry up before they will fall off.
- As they dry up, cords change color. They go from a shiny yellowish hue to brown or gray.
- However, in some cases, separation of the cord is delayed past three weeks. That is when people should approach a doctor for further evaluation.
- If you notice yellow discharge, a foul smell or redness around the newborn’s umbilical area, contact the pediatrician.
Most umbilical cord stumps look worse than they really are. Right after birth, an umbilical cord stump usually looks white and shiny and may feel slightly damp. As the stump dries and heals, it may look brown, gray or even black. This is normal. Usually, no problems will develop if parents keep the area clean and dry. The umbilical cord stump usually falls off in one to three weeks. Sometimes, the stump falls off before the first week. Other times, the stump may stay longer. Don’t panic when it finally falls off, even if there is a trace amount of blood. A little scab might form at the site, but it should heal in a few days.
When should I be concerned regarding the umbilical cord?
Just like any other part of the body, the umbilical cord can get infected. People need to be more careful in preterm and premature babies. Some symptoms are considered more severe than others and require care right away. If any of the following symptoms appear, it is recommended to see the pediatrician immediately:
- Bleeding at the stump that won’t stop after 10 minutes of direct pressure.
- Red streaks on the skin running away from the belly button area.
- A fever accompanying the cord falling off or just fever.
- Sores, blisters or pimples around the belly button area.
- Pus or mucus drainage from the location.
- Moisture, an unusual odor or discharge from the cord.
- Swelling or redness of the skin around the navel.
- Signs that the navel area is painful to the baby.
Sometimes, the baby develops a lump in or around the belly button or the belly button looks like it is protruding after the stump has fallen off. This is caused by a gap in the muscles around the belly button. This condition usually corrects itself by the child’s first birthday. However, a pediatrician will need to have a look at it to make sure that it does not require treatment. In other cases, after the stump has fallen off, some small pink lumps of flesh may be present. These lumps are called granulomas and usually disappear on their own after a couple of weeks. Sometimes they do require a bit of a helping hand to heal, so always visit the doctor or early childhood nurse if you suspect that the baby’s belly button is not healing as it should.
How should I care for the baby’s umbilical cord?
After the baby is born, the body will expel the umbilical cord along with the placenta, and the doctor or midwife will cut the connection close to the baby’s belly button. The stump is usually 2 to 3 cm long. That umbilical cord stump will cover the baby’s navel until it heals and then falls off. However, until it does, it’s important to know the general guidelines when it comes to umbilical cord care.
- The most effective, science-backed approach is simply to not disturb it. It is best to leave the umbilical cord exposed to the air as much as possible.
- Sponge baths are a good option because the baby should not be submerged in the bathtub until the umbilical cord stump has fallen off. Just use water or water and mild soap.
- Try not to cover the stump with the baby’s diaper and use comfortably-fitting diapers. Don’t clean the stump, unless it comes in contact with stool or other potential infectants. In that case, clean it with water and mild soap and dry it thoroughly.
- Avoid the urge to pull off the stump. It will come off naturally.
- There was a time when parents were told to apply alcohol to the stump to help it dry out and fall off faster. While applying alcohol certainly isn’t harmful, studies prove that it doesn’t speed up the healing process.
- Be sure to let the stump fall off naturally. Don’t pull on it.
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American Pregnancy Association: "Umbilical Cord Care." https://americanpregnancy.org/healthy-pregnancy/first-year-of-life/umbilical-cord-71031/