Umbilical cords . . . initially they are squishy and funny looking, but while your baby was still in utero, this cord served the most essential purpose of providing oxygen and nutrients to your little one. Once your baby is born, the umbilical cord is clamped in two places and cut in between. Once leaving the hospital it’s your job as the parent to follow through with appropriate umbilical cord care.

Cutting The Umbilical Cord

It is now considered best practice to not cut the cord until it turns a whitish color and stops pulsating. This is referred to as delayed cord clamping and allows your baby to get more blood and nutrients for the first few minutes after birth.

Once the umbilical cord is cut, the nurse will inspect the cord to ensure that the two arteries and one vein are present. Your baby will have a clamp (usually yellow or white) on the stump of their umbilical cord for a bit. Don’t worry, this does not hurt them! For the first day, the umbilical cord may look white and it may still be squishy. It is best not to touch it and allow it to start healing on its own.

A Visual of Umbilical Cord Care

As it heals, “It may be a little unsightly and will soon change color- white, yellow, and then black,” says Carole Kramer Arsenault in her award wining book Newborn 101. The umbilical cord will remain attached to the baby until about day 7-14. As the days go by you will see the cord get smaller and darker. You may even see that the cord is falling off in pieces; that is okay! Should this happen, it is best to not pick at it; as doing so will introduce bacteria, which increases the risk for infection. It is also likely that the piece that is still attached is simply not ready to come off yet. You may see a small bit of blood around the stump as the cord falls off. So long as it is a small amount of blood and it forms a scab quickly, this is normal.

How To Care For An Umbilical Cord

Keep It Dry

When carrying out umbilical cord care, it is important to keep the cord itself and the area around it dry. During the time that the cord is still attached to the baby, you will want to avoid full body baths. Instead of baths you can wipe your baby with a warm wet face cloth with mild baby soap. When bathing your baby in this way, start by wiping the face and neck and move down your baby’s body, while avoiding the umbilical cord.

Let The Cord Stump Heal On It’s Own

For many years, parents were taught to use rubbing alcohol to facilitate the cord falling off. This is not recommended anymore! This practice was leading to the cord falling off prematurely.

A good rule of thumb is to leave the cord stump alone! The cord cutting and subsequently falling off is a natural piece of your baby’s journey from in utero to newborn. Once the cord does fall off, you can choose to dispose of it or save it in a baby memory box. There is no official stance on how to dispose of an umbilical cord once it has fallen off.

For the first few days after your baby’s umbilical cord has fallen off, try to keep the area clean, as the navel is still healing!

When To Call The Pediatrician:

Very few babies will have issues with their new little belly buttons. However there are a few things to look out for in terms of umbilical cord care.

Umbilical Hernia

The first is seeing a bulge in the belly button. This will look very alarming, however it is likely an umbilical hernia. These are very common and often reduce on their own. They can grow to be quite large, however so long as the skin does not get dusky (a bluish purple color) or the baby doesn’t appear to be in pain, the hernia is likely not to be of too much concern. Even if your baby appears to be acting/feeling completely normal, it is still a good idea to let the pediatrician know. They will likely follow the progression and intervene if necessary. However most of the time, the umbilical hernia will reduce on its own over time.

Umbilical Cord Care: Infection

It’s typical for the umbilical cord to smell a little as it heals and hardens. However, if the smell becomes strong in addition to seeing see pus or the surrounding area is red, it may be infected. It is important that the pediatrician sees this immediately, as they will be able to prescribe the necessary treatment.

Umbilical Cord Pulled Off Too Soon

If the umbilical cord is pulled off, this could be an emergency. When taken off too soon, the belly button will continue to bleed. If the cord accidentally comes off by a diaper change or some activity after the 7 day mark, sometimes even a day or two earlier, it is likely not concerning. However if the cord is pulled off before baby is 5-7 days old or it begins to bleed without relief, you should bring the baby to the Emergency Department.

The umbilical cord is a very natural part of your baby’s body! Though it may not be the most pleasant site a few days after birth, it is also a beautiful reminder of the connection you and your baby shared throughout your pregnancy! If you are looking to learn more about newborn care take a private class with a registered nurse: Newborn 101 or 102. Learn more here!

This article contains amazon affiliate links to products. We may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

About The Author

KaitlinKaitlin McCarthy is a Registered Nurse and EMT. She started at Boston Baby Nurse & Nanny as a Newborn Care Specialist and then decided to go back to nursing school. Kaitlin is also the owner of Boston CPR Partners and specializes in instructing new parents, caregivers and medical personnel. She has worked in both the pre-hospital and clinical settings, most recently in the ER. Her passions lie in Emergency Medicine, Labor and Delivery and Newborn care.