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Reviewed by the Faculty of Harvard Medical School

Umbilical Cord Care

What is left of the umbilical cord (the stump) usually falls off within two weeks or so after birth. This may take longer in otherwise healthy infants depending on ethnicity, where the baby lives and how the cord is cared for after delivery. The best ways for you to help the natural healing of the cord are as follows:

  • Keep the area clean and dry.
  • Avoid wetting the area when you bathe your baby. Give sponge baths rather than tub baths until the cord has totally separated and fallen off. If the area does get wet, dry it gently.
  • Do not cover the umbilical cord area with a diaper because if the diaper rubs against it, the area may become irritated and red (inflammed). In addition, the area stays wet longer if covered by the diaper. Fold back the top edge of the diaper to expose the cord.
  • Do not worry if some urine or stool gets on the umbilical cord. Carefully clean the area with mild soap and water, and then dry the area thoroughly.
  • If instructed by your doctor, clean the area around the cord one or more times per day with a cotton-tipped swab or piece of gauze dipped in rubbing alcohol. Some doctors no longer recommend this practice because it has been suggested that alcohol does not necessarily prevent infection or speed up healing.
  • The stump may bleed a little just before it falls off. This is normal and should not cause concern.
  • Let the cord fall off by itself. Do not try to pull or twist it off. After the cord falls off, the belly button (navel) area may look pink or yellow. It can take several more days or even weeks to heal completely, so continue to keep the area clean and dry. You may then give tub baths, but dry the belly button thoroughly afterward.

In some infants, the belly button area seems to heal slowly and looks moist, pink and lumpy. This is usually a harmless condition called an umbilical granuloma. If this occurs, tell your baby's doctor, who may want to treat the area with a special medicine that helps the condition heal. Rarely, the umbilical cord and/or surrounding skin gets infected. Call your doctor if:

  • The skin around the cord area becomes red or swollen.
  • The belly button is draining green or yellow liquid.
  • The area develops a bad odor.
  • Your baby has a fever or seems sick.

When the cord stays on longer than usually expected, the area gets infected, or there is continued discharge from the belly button, your doctor will consider whether this is normal. These conditions can happen in healthy babies. On rare occasion, they may occur because a newborn has problems fighting infection, or some connection to the inside of the belly (as there was when the baby was inside the womb) is still open.

Last updated June 22, 2005




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