What Is an Umbilical Infection?

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  • Written By: Meshell Powell
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 27 November 2019
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An umbilical infection, known medically as omphalitis, occurs when the umbilical cord stump of a newborn becomes infected. In rare cases, older children may develop this type of infection. The most common cause of an umbilical infection is poor hygiene or the use of improper cleaning techniques. Common symptoms of an umbilical infection include redness and swelling on or around the umbilical stump. Mild discharge or bleeding may occasionally occur as well.

Poor hygiene practices when cutting the umbilical cord of a newborn can lead to the development of an umbilical infection. Improper cleaning of this area also leaves the umbilical stump vulnerable to bacterial infections. It is important to keep the umbilical area clean and dry at all times until the stump dries up and falls off. Although an umbilical infection is usually quite easy to treat, it is possible for the infection to spread into other areas of the body, leading to potentially fatal complications.


Some of the most common symptoms of an umbilical infection include redness and swelling. The redness may be mild in the beginning and only affect the area around the stump. Red streaks could then extend outward from the stump, indicating the possible spread of the infection into surrounding tissue. As the infection begins to progress, a green or yellow discharge may start to ooze from the umbilical stump. Occasionally, a small amount of bleeding may be present, although any significant bleeding could potentially indicate severe complications and should be considered to be a medical emergency.

Treatment for an umbilical infection usually involves the use of antibiotics as well as frequent and thorough cleaning of the umbilical stump. Antibiotics may be prescribed in the form of an oral preparation or as a topical ointment. The umbilical area should be gently but thoroughly cleaned, preferably with rubbing alcohol, three times per day. The alcohol helps to heal the infection and also helps the umbilical stump to dry up and fall off a little more easily.

While there are no guaranteed ways to prevent umbilical infections, good hygiene greatly reduces the risks of bacteria entering the bloodstream. Some doctors recommend cleaning the umbilical area with alcohol several times per day, even if no infection is present. As rubbing alcohol is an antiseptic, it can kill harmful bacteria before an infection has a chance to begin. It is important to consult a doctor before attempting treatment at home so that any potential complications can be diagnosed and treated in a timely manner.


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