Newborn Care: 3 Things to Know About the Umbilical Cord Stump

Before birth, babies receive all their nourishment through the umbilical cord, a tube that runs from the placenta, on the inner wall of the uterus, to the baby’s navel. This is how the baby gets all her food, liquids, and oxygen, and it remains quite literally her lifeline until she enters the world. Cutting the umbilical cord is one of the first things that happens after birth, and clamping it shut—which, along with the cutting, is painless as there are no nerves in the cord—happens soon thereafter, leaving the baby with a shriveled, someone funny-looking stump. How long does the stump stay? At birth, the umbilical cord is firmly fixed in the baby’s navel (it has to be so that no nourishment is lost inside the womb) and cannot be removed without risking pain or excessive bleeding for the baby, so the standard procedure is to let it dry up and fall off on its own. This typically happens within two weeks, but it can take up to three or even a little longer. When the umbilical cord falls out, it makes a wound that might bleed a little at first and may take a few days to fully heal. After that, the navel will continue to look red and scabby for quite some time, often for months, but it no longer bleeds or gives the baby any discomfort. Caring for the stump When the stump is still attached, the most important thing is to be gentle with it. There are newborn diapers that have a special cutout that goes around the stump, but these are not strictly necessary as you can always just fold down the front of the diaper. When it is warm enough, it is always a good idea to give the stump exposure to air, as this will speed the drying process and help it fall off faster. In any case, for the time being it is best to avoid onesies and other types of outfits that prevent the circulation of air to the baby’s belly. Some pediatricians recommend taking measures to prevent infection around the stump, usually by swabbing the area with rubbing alcohol. There are different schools of thought when it comes to this practice, though, so talk to your pediatrician about what he or she thinks is best. After some days, you may notice the stump beginning to fall off, and at some point it may even seem to be hanging by a small piece of flesh. Resist the temptation to try to pull it off. There is no need to rush the process, and pulling it off may cause pain or bleeding. Be patient, and let it happen naturally. After the stump falls off When the stump falls off, there may be a small amount of bleeding. There is not much you can do about this, but what you can and should do is clean the area regularly. Dab it with a cloth soaked in warm water and gently pat it dry. If everything is normal, the wound should soon stop bleeding and will heal after a few days. If the bleeding seems excessive or does not stop, contact your doctor as soon as possible. By Jamell Andrews