During my newborn care classes for expecting parents, when I get to the part where I tell the couple that they will have to take care of the umbilical stump, they are often shocked and frightened.
I don’t blame them.
There are millions of pictures of newborns available in the world and almost none of them highlight the umbilical cord.
It is natural therefore to be shocked when you realize that your baby will have a structure protruding from their abdomen that is connected to their internal organs. A structure that is raw, can bleed and can get infected.
However, there is no need to be frightened of the umbilical stump. All you need is enough information and appropriate action.
What is an umbilical cord?
The umbilical cord is a tube that connects your baby with you via the placenta. It has 2 arteries and a vein.
While the baby’s lungs, digestive system and kidneys are still under construction in the womb, the umbilical cord brings nutrients and oxygen to your baby and removes waste products.
The umbilical cord plays a very important role while your baby is in your womb. After birth however, once your baby’s organs start functioning it becomes redundant because your baby can now breastfeed and breathe and pass urine and stool.
Therefore, the umbilical cord is clamped at birth and cut. The cord has no nerves, so cutting it does not cause pain.
What happens to the umbilical stump?
Once the umbilical cord is clamped and cut, what remains attached to your baby’s navel is the umbilical stump. At first the stump is shiny and yellow. Over the next few weeks, it dries up, turns purple, then brown, then black and shrivels and falls off.
How to care for the umbilical stump?
It is natural to want to do everything you can to ensure that your baby’s umbilical stump heals perfectly. However, in case of caring for the umbilical stump, it is important to remember that less is more. And you must resist the temptation to “Do” anything because the umbilical stump heals best when you leave it untouched.
What to keep in mind while your baby has an umbilical stump
- Do not touch the stump. And never pull it.
- If you need to touch the stump – wash your hands with soap and dry them first.
- Do not clean the stump with alcohol or any other chemical.
- Keep the stump dry. Avoid tub baths until the stump falls off. Stick to sponge baths. Dry the stump by dabbing it with a clean cloth after the bath.
- When you fasten the diaper, fold it down so that it does not come on top of the stump so that the stump is safe from the baby’s pee and poop.
- Do not panic if some stool gets onto the stump. Immediately wipe it off gently with soap and water.
Call your doctor for help in case any of the following is true –
- You see any blood or discharge.
- You notice any swelling or redness or feel that your baby is in pain.
- The stump does not fall off after 3 weeks.
- If your baby develops fever or is lethargic, floppy and/or refuses feeds.
Once the stump falls off, your baby will start showing their belly button or navel. Depending on how healing has happened, the navel could go ‘in’ or ‘out’. Both are normal but it is best to draw your doctor’s attention to it and confirm that all is well on your next visit.
Dr. Debmita Dutta MBBS, MD
Dr. Debmita Dutta MBBS, MD is a practicing doctor, a parenting consultant, and the founder of WPA whatparentsask.com She conducts online and offline workshops on parenting for schools and corporate organisations. She also conducts online and offline prenatal and infant care classes. She is a well-known thought-leader in parenting and an expert on play, learning and eating habits. She is the author of 6 books on parenting published by Juggernaut Books and her books are among their most read books. She is frequently quoted in national and international publications of repute for her empathetic and compassionate approach to parenting and her application of physiology and brain science to parenting.