Umbilical cord care

The umbilical cord, in utero, has three big blood vessels in it: two arteries and a vein to be exact. As the cord dries, those 3 blood vessels are trying to scab over and heal as well. It explains why umbilical cords look gross as they fall off and gross after they fall off.

You can clean the base of the cord with alcohol (on a cotton swab or cotton ball) every diaper change, to help it dry up and fall off . If you'd like, you can keep applying the alcohol a few days after the cord falls off but longer than that is not necessary.  You can also leave it totally alone and let it heal up just by itself.  There's no magic to alcohol swabs, and we've all had big nasty scabs that have fallen off without us using alcohol on it every day.

Because it's important to keep the cord clean and dry, just give the baby sponge baths until the cord is fully detached.

In most newborns, the umbilical cord falls off after 2 to 4 weeks. The tiny blood vessels that helped nourish the umbilical cord in utero are probably the reason that the cord bleeds a bit as it heals. A bit of yellow drainage is pretty normal too.

(The best analogy that I can come up with is the big nasty scabs that formed on our elbows and knees when we fell off our bikes when we were younger (or last week, who knows!) Those scabs were big, nasty and probably had a yellow drainage.

After the cord comes off, there may be a stump at the bottom of the belly button. That's normal. Weird-looking, but normal.

See us when...

  • if the skin around the belly button is red or tender or if it bleeds more than just an occasional drop on the diaper.
  • If the cord is still attached after the baby is month of age
  • And as always in this age group, if there is a fever.