How to Take Care of Your Baby's Umbilical Cord

Here's all the information you need to look after your baby's umbilical cord.
How to Take Care of Your Baby's Umbilical Cord
Diego Pereira

Reviewed and approved by el médico Diego Pereira.

Last update: 02 February, 2023

The umbilical cord supplies nutrients and oxygen to the fetus during pregnancy. It connects the fetus to the placenta, and also works by removing waste products from the blood. When the baby is born, the cord is clamped and cut, although a small stump remains that falls off on its own after several days. Today we’ll show you how to take care of your baby’s umbilical cord.

As experts point out, cord care practices vary based on cultural traditions within communities, and not all of them are safe. The risk of infection is always latent, and cases of omphalitis and thrombophlebitis are not uncommon. We’ll show you how to take care of your baby’s umbilical cord according to scientists.

How to take care of your baby’s umbilical cord

To care for your baby's umbilical cord, gauze is not always used
While it’s customary for some parents to clean the umbilical cord in great detail, it isn’t actually always necessary.

The unanimous recommendation of specialists for decades has been to take care of your baby’s umbilical cord without using soap and water, nor any other products.

It’s the safest, most practical, and functional method; it’s also the one that is associated with fewer complications and risks of infections. Its care is very important, so much so that the National Institute for Health Care and Excellence urges health agencies, caregivers, and the relevant authorities to inform parents about their proper care.

Much of the concern of mothers and fathers is related to the uncertainty about the normal drying process, the detachment of the umbilical cord, its appearance, and its smell. Therefore, you can lead them to use topical medications, as well as following recommendations from their inner circle on how to speed up their fall and avoid complications.

The use of antiseptics

Although the intention are good, the truth is that many practices can delay it falling off and even lead to infections. Antiseptics are also widely used, with many using them inordinately. The use of alcohol has also become popular, with a similar frequency to the previous alternative.

A study published in the Cureus Journal of Medical Science in 2019 found that dry cord care is much more effective than alcohol care. Contrary to popular belief, the researchers associated alcohol use with delayed cord detachment.

Regarding the use of antiseptics, such as chlorhexidine (the most used in these cases), experts endorse their use in places where the chances of infection are higher.

All of the above is useful to come to the conclusion that the best way to care for your baby’s umbilical cord is through dry care. Unless the specialist recommends otherwise, you should only use this type of treatment, as it’s the one with fewer complications in the process. Keep in mind that the cord falls off on its own between 1 and 3 weeks after delivery.

Tips to take care of your baby’s umbilical cord

To take care of your baby's umbilical cord you have to be careful
In case of doubt, it’s always good to consult with the pediatrician, especially in the first days of life.

It has already become clear that to take care of your baby’s umbilical cord you must use dry care. However, in the process, you must have a series of recommendations, which you must couple with those that the specialist doctor gives you during postpartum visits. These are the most important ones:

  • Keep the front of the diaper folded down: This prevents it from covering the stump, and exposes it to the air to speed up its falling out.
  • Choose sponge baths: Until the stump has fallen off, you should avoid bathing your baby in a tub of water. Opt for sponge baths and avoid wetting the stump in the process.
  • Resist the temptation to remove it on your own: For the last few days or hours the stump will only be hanging by a thread. Avoid the temptation to remove it on your own, and wait instead for it to come off naturally.
  • Don’t be exasperated if you see a little blood: When it falls off, it’s normal to see a little blood – it’s just a consequence of the wound. It’ll create a scab just like a conventional wound.
  • Check the area for infections: The most common signs are pus, swelling, a bad smell, inflammation, and symptoms of pain or tenderness in the child when the stump is lightly touched.

If you detect these signs, consult a specialist. It’s likely that the stump has become infected, and, with your help, they’ll find the best option to deal with it. Similarly, seek help if the umbilical cord hasn’t fallen off after three weeks. Failure to do so is a symptom of an immune disorder or other complication.

Avoid over-manipulating the stump

In short, the stump will come off on its own; it doesn’t usually cause complications and the best way to take care of it is through dry care. If our advice hasn’t convinced you, then consult directly with the specialist for their opinion. We urge you to avoid homemade, natural, and other treatments to prevent infections in the stump.

  • Al-Shehri H. The Use of Alcohol versus Dry Care for the Umbilical Cord in Newborns: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis of Randomized and Non-randomized Studies. 2019;11(7):e5103. Published 2019 Jul 8.
  • Karumbi J, Mulaku M, Aluvaala J, English M, Opiyo N. Topical umbilical cord care for prevention of infection and neonatal mortality. Pediatr Infect Dis J. 2013;32(1):78-83.
  • López-Medina, M. D., López-Araque, A. B., Linares-Abad, M., & López-Medina, I. M. Umbilical cord separation time, predictors and healing complications in newborns with dry care. PLoS One. 2020; 15(1): e0227209.
  • Stewart D, Benitz W; COMMITTEE ON FETUS AND NEWBORN. Umbilical Cord Care in the Newborn Infant. 2016 Sep;138(3):e20162149.

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