Caring for umbilical stumps

umbilical stump careAt the time of birth, a baby’s umbilical cord has a shiny, off-white color. Over the next few days, the cord will dry out and turn a dark brown or black color. As this happens, the cord will shrink and often looks like a scab on the baby’s abdomen. In the past, the umbilical stump was coated with a blue dye after birth and parents were told to clean the area with rubbing alcohol at every diaper change. These recommendations were discontinued because they were found to increase the time it took for the cord to fall off. Nowadays, parents don’t need to do anything special other than keeping the stump from becoming irritated by the baby’s diaper and avoiding baths until the cord falls off.

A few things may happen that worry parents during the 7 to 10 days that it takes for the cord to fall off.

  • The base of the cord may develop a gooey, greenish-yellow appearance. This is normal and not a cause for concern.
  • The cord may smell bad. The reason the cord falls off is because it no longer has a blood supply, and the baby’s immune system is rejecting the dead tissue. If the stump became infected, the skin around the belly button would become red and swollen. If you think your baby’s umbilical stump is infected, you should see the doctor promptly.
  • The cord may bleed a little before or after it falls off. If this happens, you can gently clean the excess blood with a cotton swab.
  • A red, fleshy lump may appear after the cord falls off. This is called an umbilical granuloma. It’s not serious, but doctors treat the area with silver nitrate to make the lump fall off.
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