Woman holding her newborn baby.

Umbilical Cord Care in Newborns

The umbilical cord is what provides nutrients and oxygen to your developing baby in utero. This tube-like structure is also responsible for carrying waste away from your baby. Once you’ve delivered your baby, the doctor will clamp the cord so it can be cut. This is a painless process for both you and your baby, as there are no nerves within the umbilical cord. When you deliver the placenta, the remaining umbilical cord will come out with it. However, your baby’s umbilical cord stump will remain attached until it dries out and falls off on its own. To make sure that you’re properly supporting this process, here is more information regarding umbilical cord care for your newborn.


How to Take Care of the Umbilical Cord Stump

The umbilical cord tends to fall off between 10 and 14 days after birth. However, it can take up to 21 days, so try to be patient. During this time, there are certain precautions that you need to take to avoid infection and promote healthy healing in your newborn. Regardless of what you’re doing, always wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water before holding your baby or changing their diaper. This will help you reduce the risk of infection if you accidentally touch the umbilical cord or need to clean it.

Keep the Area Dry

In the past, parents were told to clean the umbilical cord using rubbing alcohol to help sterilize it and reduce infections. However, doing this actually strips the umbilical stump of helpful bacteria that are essential for healing. Now, doctors widely agree that the best way to care for the stump of the umbilical cord is to simply keep the area dry. For ongoing dry cord care, avoid getting the baby's stump wet and don’t use any ointments or lotions on it. While this can be counterintuitive for adults, umbilical cords will naturally fall off and are best left alone. If the cord does get wet, gently pat away excess water and allow it to completely air dry before dressing your baby or putting on a diaper.

Be Gentle

Whenever you do need to handle the umbilical cord, always do so with an extremely gentle touch. Never, under any circumstances, try to pick at it. This can increase the risk of infection, cause improper healing, and lead to discomfort for your baby. If you notice any problems and aren’t sure what to do, call your baby's doctor. Avoid falling victim to old wives’ tales, especially in regard to taping the umbilical cord down or placing a coin on it. While people believe this can help change the shape of the belly button, it doesn’t. The only thing it does is increase the risk of damage and infection.

Bathe with Sponge Baths

While keeping the umbilical cord dry is important, so is bathing your newborn. Luckily, unlike older babies and toddlers, newborns don’t necessarily need to be bathed every day. To reinforce the precautions you need to take with the umbilical cord, the best way to keep your newborn clean during those first few weeks is to give them a sponge bath. Unlike regular baths which soak the umbilical cord in water, sponge baths keep it to a bare minimum.

To give your newborn a sponge bath, gather everything you’ll need and get in a comfortable position. You don’t need any special products or materials, simply a bowl of warm water, baby soap, a washcloth, and some towels. You may want to gently clean the umbilical cord during this time as well, so have a cotton ball handy. Lay your baby down on a flat surface such as a changing table or a towel on the floor and make sure all of your supplies are within reach. Once you begin, never leave your baby unattended—especially if you’re bathing them on a changing table or other high surface. Dip the washcloth into the warm water, ring it out, and gently wash your newborn’s face. Then, add soap to the water and repeat to clean your newborn’s body, paying special attention to areas with skin folds. Do this every other day to keep your baby clean.

You can also use a damp cotton ball or swap to clean the skin around the stump but avoid getting the umbilical cord itself wet. After the bath, allow the umbilical cord to completely dry before you put on a fresh diaper and a new pair of clothes.

Fold Diapers Accordingly

Diapers tend to sit around the hips, where the umbilical cord is, so try to fold them accordingly during those first few weeks. Avoid covering the stump with the diaper, as this can cause friction and increase the risk of pulling the cord off prematurely. Nowadays, there are newborn diaper options that are made to accommodate the umbilical cord, or you can simply fold the waistband down so that it sits below the stump. If you fold the diaper down, make sure that it’s snug, but comfortable.

After putting on your newborns diaper, take the same precautions when dressing them. While you might be tempted to choose cute, stylish outfits, stick to loose-fitting clothing that don’t put pressure on the stump. Onesies are great for newborns after the umbilical cord falls off, but it’s best stick with bodysuits that are designed to accommodate a newborn’s umbilical cord until it’s gone.

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What to Do When the Stump Comes Off

When your baby’s umbilical cord falls off, there will likely be a few drops of blood in their diaper. After the stump has fallen off, continue to keep the area clean and dry. This will help you reduce the risk of infection as the area fully heals. It’s normal for newborns to develop a scab over their navel during this time, but if there are any signs of redness or a fever, call your doctor. Continue to care for your baby and monitor him or her for any signs of problems.


Potential Umbilical Cord Problems

Although rare, there are some conditions that can affect the umbilical cord. Infection can also occur, which requires treatment from your baby’s pediatrician. Check the umbilical cord regularly to watch for any signs of a problem and contact your doctor if you have questions.

Umbilical Hernia

Similar to a hernia in an adult, an umbilical hernia occurs when part of your baby’s intestine pokes out through the muscles that are surrounding their belly button. This isn’t considered a serious complication and usually heals on its own, but you can discuss treatment options with your doctor. It may take up to two years for umbilical hernias to resolve naturally as your baby continues to develop.

Umbilical Granuloma

This is an umbilical complication that occurs when a small, light red-pinkish part of the umbilical cord remains attached after the majority of the stump has fallen off. Although it may be alarming, it causes no physical pain to your baby and is easily treatable. Call your doctor if you notice an umbilical granuloma, as they can remove it by tying it off with stitches or freezing it using a liquid nitrogen solution.


This is the medical term to describe infection surrounding the newborn's umbilical cord stump. While rare, it can occur. Some umbilical cord symptoms that are indicative of omphalitis include red skin or a swollen appearance, oozing pus, discharge, a fluid-filled sac near the umbilical cord’s base, bleeding, foul odors, low appetite, a fever, lethargy, abdominal swelling, or increased crying.

If you notice any signs of a problem with your baby’s umbilical cord, contact your doctor as soon as possible. While small amounts of blood are normal during this process, large quantities of blood or pus are not. These can be signs of an infection, which requires immediate attention and treatment to avoid spreading. You should also contact your doctor if your baby’s umbilical cord hasn’t fallen off after six weeks, as this can be an indication of underlying conditions.

Most newborns lose their umbilical cords about two weeks after delivery and problems are rare. Just make sure that you properly care for the area during the process. During this time, use a breast pump to help you build a milk supply and share feedings with your partner. This will give you more time to rest and recover along with your newborn. Byram Healthcare has a wide selection of insurance-covered breast pumps available to new and expecting mothers with zero out of pocket costs. Compare popular breast pump models and start your order today using our easy, three-step process.