Caring for your baby’s umbilical cord

umbilical cord

Back in the day, our mothers/grandmothers used to wet clothes, place on lanterns and place on babies’ umbilical cords. Things have changed. This act is no longer acceptable. New parents often worry about their baby’s cord stump, especially as it dries and prepares to fall off. Caring for your baby’s cord is fairly straightforward and you should always take your baby to their doctor if you think it has become infected or sore.

What is the umbilical cord?

The umbilical cord is the tube that runs from your baby’s abdomen and attaches his blood supply to your placenta. This allows a continual transfer of oxygen, nutrition and waste products between your baby’s blood and yours. Everything your baby needs to survive and grow is passed down the cord and into your baby’s bloodstream from you.

When should my baby’s cord fall off?

To separate the cord from your baby a small clamp is put around the cord, a few centimetres from his belly button.  Then the cord is cut, this is a symbolic moment to many new parents and often the dad cuts the cord (if the hospital allows). What is left is called the cord stump and this can then be allowed to dry and fall off naturally, usually sometime between 5 and 14 days (although it can also be a little earlier or later).

Sometimes midwives leave the clamp on until the cord falls off naturally. Sometimes they take the clamp off after a few days. The cord will turn dark and fall off. The place where it’s fallen off heals to become your baby’s bellyy button, which might be hidden or prominent.

How do I clean my baby’s cord?

It’s important to keep the cord and umbilical stump dry and clean to help make sure it doesn’t get infected. First things first – wash your own hands carefully!

You can use cotton wool and methylated spirit to GENTLY rub the cord. DON’T press hot clothes  on your baby’s cord. DON’T use any lotion, powder, or oils on or around your baby’s umbilical cord.

Ask the nurses for special advice on looking after your baby’s umbilical cord stump.

Can I gently pull the cord to help it come off?

Never pull on your baby’s cord. It will fall off when it’s ready.

Should my baby’s cord be inside or outside the nappy?

Due to the placement of the cord it can be tricky deciding whether to place the cord and clamp inside or outside your baby’s nappy. This is entirely your choice and depends on however you and your baby feel most comfortable. However, if you do choose to keep the cord inside the nappy, make sure that the nappy waistband is not too tight as this may press the clamp into your baby’s tummy, which may be uncomfortable.

Some nappies have a special gap cut out for the cord – specially designed for newborns. But it’s just as easy to fold an ordinary nappy down if you want to.

My baby’s cord smells, is this normal?

As the cord prepares to fall off, it is normal for it to be a little smelly.

How can I tell if my baby’s cord is infected?

If the smell from the cord becomes very strong, and there is redness or swelling or some oozing from the base of the stump you should get it assessed by a doctor as this may indicate an infection. Don’t use antibiotics on your baby except prescribed by your doctor.

Other signs to look for:

  • If your baby develops a fever, it might mean he is mounting a fever to fight an infection in the cord
  • If your baby doesn’t want to feed, or just doesn’t seem well, it also might indicate an infection

It’s always better to show it to your doctor if you are concerned.

Will the cord falling off hurt my baby?

Though it can be a concern that the cord is hurting your baby there are no nerve endings present in the cord itself and so you can be sure that this will not be worrying your baby.

What do I do if my baby’s stump doesn’t heal?

Sometimes, a baby’s stump may take longer to heal than normal. If this is the case, ask your doctor to check it for you. They might check whether it needs to be sealed. Sealing is called ‘cauterisation’. It’s a simple and fairly common procedure and doesn’t hurt the baby.

If your mum/mother-in-law still believe in using hot wet clothes to heal umbilical cords, you need to look for a way to make them understand that times have changed, and that there are more painless methods to clean cords.


Any questions/suggestions? Type here!