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What's an umbilical cord stump?
Babies in the womb receive nourishment and oxygen through the placenta, which is attached to the inner wall of the mother's uterus. The placenta is connected to the baby by the umbilical cord, which attaches to the baby through an opening in the baby's abdomen.
After your baby is born, the umbilical cord is clamped and cut close to your baby's body. It's a painless procedure. And it leaves an umbilical stump attached to your baby's belly button.
Learn about cord blood banking.
How long will my baby have an umbilical cord stump?
The stump will dry up and drop off in about 7 to 21 days, leaving a small wound that may take a few days to heal.
When the stump falls off, you may notice a little blood on the diaper – don't worry, it's normal. Sometimes, after the stump falls off, there's some drainage of clear or yellow fluid, and some bits of lumpy flesh may remain.
These "umbilical granulomas" may disappear on their own, or they may need to be treated by your child's doctor. But they aren't serious and don't contain nerves, so if treatment is necessary, it'll be painless for your baby.
How do I take care of an umbilical cord stump?
Until your baby's umbilical cord stump falls off:
- Keep the umbilical cord stump clean and dry. Fold your baby's diaper away from the stump (or buy newborn diapers with a cut-out space for the stump). This exposes the stump to the air and prevents contact with urine.
- Give your baby sponge baths instead of tub baths.
- If the weather is warm, have your baby wear just a diaper and loose T-shirt to let air circulate and speed the drying process.
- Avoid dressing your baby in bodysuit-style undershirts.
- Never attempt to pull off the stump, even if it seems to be hanging by a thread.
Don't use alcohol to clean the stump. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) used to recommend cleaning the base of the stump daily with a cotton swab dipped in rubbing alcohol. But researchers have found that untreated cords heal faster than alcohol-swabbed cords and carry no more risk of infection, so the AAP changed its recommendation.
What are the signs of an umbilical cord stump infection?
Infections are rare, but consult your baby's doctor if:
- Your baby cries when you touch the cord or the skin next to it.
- The skin around the base of the cord is red.
- The stump smells foul or has a yellowish discharge.
Also call the doctor if the stump bleeds continuously, as this may be a sign of a bleeding disorder.
Find out more about newborn care.