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 clamped before it is cut, leaving a stump behind. Within about a week, the stump withers and falls off. The stump changes in color from yellowish-green to brown to black before falling off.

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

It is important to keep the cord clean in order to prevent infection. Bathing the cord in water does not increase the rate of infection or make the cord take longer to fall off. Allow the cord to dry naturally. There is no need to apply topical substances such as alcohol to the cord stump.

Some additional tips:

  • When diapering the baby, make sure to fold the edge of the diaper down so that the cord can dry. Some newborn diapers have a special cut-out cord area.
  • Allow the cord to fall off on its own. Never try to pull off the cord, even if it seems to be dangling or hanging. Pulling off the cord may result in unnecessary bleeding and harm to your baby.
  • Watch for signs of infection, which may include redness and inflammation in the area under the stump. In some cases, there may be colored discharge or bleeding. Call your baby’s doctor right away if you suspect an 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: 3/10/2016...#11308