How to care for a newborn's umbilical stump

How to care for a newborn's umbilical stump

The care for a newborn baby's umbilical cord should be an obvious ritual for all new parents. Or should it? Actually, it is not that obvious, at least going by the many questions I receive from new mothers.

During pregnancy, the umbilical cord supplies nutrients and oxygen to your developing baby. After birth, the umbilical cord is no longer needed, so it's clamped and snipped leaving behind a stump. The umbilical cord stump will change from yellowish green to brown to black as it dries out and eventually falls off, usually within about two weeks after birth.

Expose the stump to the air to help dry out the base. Keep the front of your baby's diaper folded down to avoid covering the stump and to prevent it from getting covered in urine or stool. You'll need to keep your baby's umbilical stump clean and dry to prevent it from becoming infected.

You can wash your baby's stump with plain water; gently pat the stump with a soft towel or cloth or wet cotton, once or twice a day only until it drops off. Do not use an antiseptic or surgical spirit on the stump.

Always wash your hands before handling your baby's stump, before and after nappy changes and washes. Let the stump come away naturally. Don't pull on it. After the stump falls off, it should take between seven and 10 days for the area to heal completely. Don't continue to clean the stump after it falls off, leave the site to dry and just bath the baby normally.

Sometimes, the umbilical stump can take longer to heal, and bits of lumpy flesh may appear in the wound. This is nothing to worry about, and these lumps will soon disappear. It's normal for the stump to look a bit mucky as it is healing. This doesn't mean that it's infected.

However, if your baby develops a fever, becomes lethargic, doesn't want to feed or appears generally unwell with pus coming from the cord site; it could mean the stump has become infected, in which case you should take the baby for the medical check-up.

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