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How Do I Care for an Umbilical Cord Stump?

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  • Written By: Rebecca Harkin
  • Edited By: Allegra J. Lingo
  • Last Modified Date: 28 August 2016
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One of the most frightening things a new parent faces is how to deal with their newborn’s umbilical cord stump. It looks like a menacing sore and can appear very intimidating, but in truth care for the stump is very simple. The umbilical cord stump should be kept clean and dry, should not be abrasively brushed by clothing, should be allowed to fall off naturally, and should be observed for any signs of infection.

The umbilical cord stump will fall off after it heals and dries out, so the stump should be kept clean and dry as much as possible to allow this to happen naturally. Newborn babies should only be given sponge baths and should never be submerged in water until the stump falls off. To do this, lay the baby on a towel in a secure location, wet a washcloth, and add a small amount of mild baby soap. Wash one area at a time with the soapy washcloth and then wipe away the soap with a clean wet washcloth. Repeat this procedure until the entire baby is clean, but avoid the umbilical cord stump and the area immediately surrounding it.

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There is some controversy about whether the stump should be periodically cleaned with rubbing alcohol. A large study found that umbilical cord stumps that were cleaned with rubbing alcohol took longer to fall off than stumps left alone. Cleaning a stump with rubbing alcohol does not appear to significantly reduce infection, but it does reduce the unpleasant smell associated with some umbilical cord stumps. You should ask your pediatrician which she prefers and follow her advice.

The stump should also be left open to the air as much as possible without overly chilling the baby. A newborn’s diaper should be folded under so that it does not rub against the stump, or special newborn diapers, with a notch near the belly button area, should be used. You should try to keep clothing from rubbing against the umbilical cord stump by avoiding tight body suits, and choose loose shirts or nightgowns instead.

Once the umbilical cord stump has healed and dried, it will fall off. You should never try to remove the stump yourself or coax it to fall off. Remember it may take up to two weeks for the umbilical cord stump to fall off.

You should be vigilant for any signs of infection during the time it takes for the stump to dry out and fall off. Signs of an infection include redness or swelling near the bottom of the stump, discolored pus oozing from the stump area, or a fever. A smelly umbilical cord stump may be a sign of infection or it may be due to the drying tissue. If you encounter any of the signs of infection, you should call your pediatrician.

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