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Umbilical Cord Appearance and Care

What is the umbilical cord?

The umbilical cord is the baby’s lifeline to the mother during pregnancy. The cord transports nutrients to the baby and also carries away the baby’s waste products. It is made up of two arteries and one vein.

What does the umbilical cord look like?

The umbilical cord is a flexible, tube-like structure that has a spongy appearance. The cord is surrounded in a jelly-like substance. After childbirth, the cord is either clamped or tied off before it is cut, leaving a stump behind. In most nurseries, an antibacterial dye (usually blue in color) is applied to the stump, which may temporarily stain the cord and surrounding skin. Some drainage and bleeding may occur from the stump. However, it will soon dry, and it is normal for the withering cord to go through color changes, from yellow to brown or black. The stump will fall off within 1-3 weeks.

How do I take care of my newborn’s umbilical cord?

It is important to keep the cord clean and dry while it is healing. In order to keep the cord dry, sponge bathe your baby instead of giving him a bath – avoid submerging the cord in water.

Clean the cord with mild soap and water and dry thoroughly. After cleaning, wipe the base of the cord with an alcohol swab. It is recommended that the cord be wiped with alcohol after every diaper change, to prevent bacteria from growing.

When diapering the baby:

Make sure to fold the edge of the diaper so that the cord can dry. Some newborn diapers have a special cut-out cord area. To prevent infection, it is recommended that you change your baby’s diaper as frequently as every two hours.

Some additional tips:

  • Signs of cord infection include: increased redness, swelling, odor, and/or drainage. If any of these symptoms appear, call your baby’s doctor as soon as possible.
  • Allow the cord to fall off on its own. Do not try to pull off the cord yourself, even if it appears to be hanging or dangling; pulling off the cord can cause unnecessary bleeding and harm to your baby.
  • The baby’s navel cannot be shaped into an "innie" or an "outie," despite old folklore. Do not tape flat objects to the baby’s navel, this will not help to shape the navel in any way.
  • After the cord has fallen off, continue to swab the navel area with alcohol for a few days. This will keep the area clean and free from infection.

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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 5/31/2011...#11308