umbilical cord is cut at birth, a stump of tissue
remains attached to your baby's navel (umbilicus). The stump gradually dries
and shrivels until it falls off, usually 1 to 2 weeks after birth. It
is important that you keep the umbilical cord stump and surrounding skin clean
and dry. This basic care helps prevent infection. It may also help the
umbilical cord stump to fall off and the navel to heal more quickly.
Gently clean your baby's umbilical cord
stump and the surrounding skin at least once a day and as needed during diaper
changes or baths.
Soak a cotton swab in warm water and mild
soap. Squeeze out the excess water. Gently wipe around the sides of the stump
and the skin around it. Your doctor may recommend using rubbing alcohol instead
of soap and water. If you use rubbing alcohol, first apply a gentle lotion
around the stump. This can help protect your baby's sensitive
Wipe away any wet, sticky, or dirty substances.
Gently pat dry the area with a soft cloth.
The stump usually falls off in a week or two but
sometimes it takes longer. Continue to clean around the navel at least once a
day until the navel has completely healed.
Keeping the area dry
You can help your baby's
umbilical cord stump fall off and heal faster by keeping it dry between
Keep your baby's diaper folded below the
umbilical cord stump. If folding does not work well, try cutting out an area in
the front of the diaper (before you put it on your baby) to keep the stump
exposed to air. It also helps prevent diaper contents, such as urine, from
irritating the stump.
Bathe your baby carefully. Keep the
umbilical cord stump above the water level until the stump falls off and heals.
Many baby baths are gently sloped. This helps you position your baby for a
sponge bath and helps you keep the umbilical cord out of the water.
Knowing what to expect
Most umbilical cord stumps look worse than
they really are. Right after birth, an umbilical cord stump usually looks white
and shiny and may feel slightly damp. As the stump dries and heals, it may look
brown, gray, or even black. This is normal. Usually no problems will develop as
long as you keep the area clean and dry.
The umbilical cord stump
usually falls off in a week or two. Sometimes the stump falls off before the
first week. Other times, the stump may stay longer.
You may notice
a red, raw-looking spot right after the stump falls off. A small amount of
fluid sometimes tinged with blood may ooze out of the navel area. It is normal for this to last up to 2 weeks after the stump falls off. If it doesn't heal or dry completely within 2 weeks, call your doctor.
When to call a doctor
Call your baby's doctor if
you see any signs of an infection. These signs include:
Pus (yellowish fluid) that is around the base of the cord and smells bad.
Red, tender skin around the base of
Your baby crying when you touch the cord or the skin
Also call your baby's doctor if you notice any other
problems with the umbilical cord area, such as:
A moist, red lump on your baby's navel
that lasts for more than 2 weeks after the umbilical cord has fallen off. This
may be a piece of extra tissue called an umbilical granuloma. Your baby's doctor can treat this minor problem.
Bulging tissue around the navel, usually
noticed after the umbilical cord falls off. This may be an
umbilical hernia, which usually goes away on its own.
But it should be monitored by a doctor.
Hagan JF, et al., eds. (2008). Health supervision:
Newborn visit. In Bright Futures: Guidelines for Health Supervision of Infants, Children, and Adolescents, 3rd ed., pp. 271–288.
Elk Grove Village, IL: American Academy of Pediatrics.
Sniderman S, Charlton VE (2003). Routine postnatal
care and observation section of The newborn infant. In CD Rudolph et al., eds.,
Rudolph's Pediatrics, 21st ed., pp. 103–107. New York:
Zupan J, et al. (2004). Topical umbilical cord care at birth. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (3).
Primary Medical Reviewer
Susan C. Kim, MD - Pediatrics
Specialist Medical Reviewer
Thomas Emmett Francoeur, MD, MDCM, CSPQ, FRCPC - Pediatrics
How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.