By Karen Grimaldos
Shrinking, drying, and shriveling, oh my. Your newborn’s umbilical cord stump—the little stub that remains after her umbilical cord is cut—might seem a little intimidating at first. Fortunately, all your baby’s soon-to-be belly button needs is a little TLC, and administering it is likely easier than you think.
Cleaning your newborn’s umbilical cord stump
Gentle sponge baths are the best way to keep your newborn clean until her umbilical cord stump falls off. When diapering, fold the diaper down below the stump, leaving it exposed to air. This helps promote quicker drying and healing and also protects the stump from getting soaked with urine.
Additionally, even though your newborn’s umbilical cord stump might look like it needs to be kept extra clean, resist the urge to use harsh products like rubbing alcohol. “Keeping the stump area moist could actually promote infection rather than prevent it,” says Jennifer Shu, M.D., an Atlanta pediatrician and co-author of Heading Home with your Newborn. “It’s best to leave the stump alone and focus on keeping the area dry.”
Signs of infection for umbilical cord stumps
Given the umbilical cord stump’s odd appearance, how will you know if things are not okay? Look for these signs of infection and call your doctor right away if you see any of the following:
• Pus oozing from the stump or skin
• A red streak near baby’s navel
• Redness spreading beyond the navel
When should the umbilical cord stump fall off?
Usually, your newborn’s umbilical cord stump will detach on its own within a few weeks. It’s going to shrivel, dry, and even change colors, going from yellow-green to dark brown or black before falling off. After that, you’ll see a gooey, yellow scab on your baby’s navel—but don’t worry—that will dry up and fall off too.
Sometimes, though, umbilical cord stumps can be stubborn little things, occasionally lingering or hanging on by a thread before detaching. While tugging is tempting, doing so puts your baby at risk for unnecessary bleeding. However, if the stump doesn’t fall off after five weeks, then you should take action and call your pediatrician. “That could indicate a more serious medical problem with baby’s immune system,” warns Shu. Luckily, a simple blood test is all it takes to check for any issues.