Umbilical Cord Care

There are several ways to care for your newborn's umbilical cord. It is important to keep the diaper away from the stump and to clean your baby with sponge baths to avoid getting this area wet. Do not pull off the umbilical cord stump; let it fall off on its own. By exposing it to air and keeping it clean, you are allowing it to heal faster and preventing infections.

How to Care for the Umbilical Cord

There are many things to think about when you first bring your newborn home from the hospital. One question that is often asked by new mothers is how to care for the umbilical cord stump.
 
The umbilical cord was once the source of food and oxygen for your baby. As part of the delivery process, it was clamped and most of it was cut. This "stump" looks a lot more challenging to take care of than it actually is -- so relax.
 
Some keys to good umbilical cord care include:
 
  • Keeping it dry
  • Keeping it clean
  • Letting it fall off by itself
  • Bathing your baby with sponge baths until the cord falls off.
     
In about one to two weeks, the stump should fall off, although this time period can be shorter or longer.
 

Newborn Umbilical Cord Care -- Keeping It Clean and Dry

Depending on which healthcare provider you ask, you might receive a different answer as to how to take care of the umbilical cord stump until it falls off. At one time, the standard thing to do was swab the site with alcohol three times a day to prevent a build-up of "gunk" around the base and to speed up the drying out process. There have been recent studies, however, that contradict this practice.
These researchers have found that it is actually best not to apply alcohol to the stump. They found that the stump actually falls off quicker if it is left to dry on its own.
 
Other helpful tips for caring for the umbilical cord include the following:
 
  • Keep the diaper away from the stump by folding the front down. Do not close the diaper so that any part of it covers the stump. Fold the diaper down and away from your baby's navel.
     
  • Avoid the "onesie" style garments until the stump falls off.
     
  • Clean your baby with a warm sponge and do not allow water to get at the area until the stump falls off.
     
  • Refrain from pulling on it. Even if it is barely hanging by a tiny piece of skin, don't pull it off.
     
Remember the goal for this part of the process is to keep the area clean and dry. By letting the air have access to the stump, you are allowing it to heal faster. By keeping it clean, you are decreasing the risk of infection.
 
Written by/reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last updated/reviewed:
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