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Umbilical cord care in newborns

Alternative Names

Cord - umbilical

Information

When your baby is born, the umbilical cord is cut and there is a stump left. The stump should dry and fall off by the time your baby is 5 to 15 days old. Keep the stump clean with gauze and water only. Sponge bathe the rest of your baby as well. Do not put him or her in a tub of water until the stump has fallen off.

Let the cord fall off naturally. Do not try to pull it off, even if it is only hanging on by a thread.

Watch the umbilical cord stump for infection. This does not occur often, but if it gets infected, it can spread quickly.

Signs of a local infection at the stump are:

  • Foul-smelling, yellow drainage from the cord
  • Redness, swelling, tenderness of the skin around the cord

Be aware of signs of a more serious infection. Contact your health care provider immediately if your baby has:

  • Poor feeding
  • Fever of 100.4F or higher
  • Lethargy
  • Floppy, poor muscle tone

Other things to watch out for:

If the cord stump is pulled off too soon, it could start actively bleeding. Every time you wipe away a drop of blood, another drop appears. If the cord continues to bleed, call your baby's health care provider immediately.

Sometimes instead of completely drying, the cord will form pink scar tissue, called a granuloma. This granuloma drains a light-yellowish fluid. This will usually go away in about a week. If it does not, call your baby's health care provider.

If your baby's stump has not fallen off in 4 weeks, there may be a problem with the baby's anatomy or immune system. Call your health care provider.

References

Carlo WA. The umbilicus. In: Kliegman RM, Behrman RE, Jenson HB, Stanton BF, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 19th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 99.

Updated: 12/4/2013

Neil K. Kaneshiro, MD, MHA, Clinical Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.


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