Photo by Maureen Noce Photography

Caring for your newborns umbilical cord stump is important.  Whether your baby is born in a health care facility or at home, most times caring for the umbilical cord is easy.  

After delivery of your baby, your health care provider will clamp the umbilical cord and then it is cut to separate your baby from the placenta.  The clamp is left on the umbilical cord until the stump shrivels up and falls off.  

What to expect?

When you first bring your baby home, the umbilical cord will look a bluish white color.  As it dries, it will slowly turn a dark brown/black color.  

As it starts to fall off, you may notice a very small amount of blood or oozing.  This is normal.  

This process usually takes between 1 to 3 weeks.  

Keeping the umbilical cord area clean

Dry cord care is recommended for majority of care of umbilical cords.  This means that the area around the umbilical is keep clean and dry.  

Water is all you need to clean the area.  Dip a cotton swab in warm water and gently wipe around the sides of the umbilical cord stump and the skin around it.  Dry the area with a clean cloth.  

You can give your baby a bath before the cord dries up and falls off – try not to submerge their belly into the water.  If the cord does get wet, fully dry the cord with a cotton swab before dressing your newborn.  

Other tips for umbilical cord care

Some other things to consider until the umbilical area is healed include:

  • Fold the top edge of the diaper down so it doesn’t rub on the umbilical cord stump
  • Do not apply any bandages to the area
  • Do not clean with alcohol.  This is outdated advice and not recommended any longer
  • Do not pull at the stump, even if is starting to fall off.  It will come off on its own

Call your doctor

The umbilical cord stump can be an entry point for bacteria into a newborn.  You should watch for signs of infection in your newborn baby.  An infection of the umbilical cord stump is call omphalitis.  

Call your doctor if you see any of these signs:

  • Fever
  • Oozing yellow pus from the umbilical cord area
  • Foul smelling discharge from the umbilical cord area
  • Significant bleeding
  • Red and tender skin around the base of the cord
  • Newborn is crying with discomfort when you touch the cord or skin next to it

This post was co-authored by Erin Manchuk, BScPharm, BCGP and Stephanie Liu, MD, MSc, CCFP, BHSc.