Care of the Umbilical cord

Please note, this page is printable by selecting the normal print options on your computer.

Background Information
The umbilical cord is the baby’s lifeline during pregnancy, but is no longer needed when the baby is born. Within a few minutes after birth, the cord is clamped and cut close to the navel. Once deprived of its blood supply, the cord will start to dry out, harden and turn into your baby’s belly button. The cord has no nerves and therefore your baby will not feel any discomfort whilst this is happening.

Care of the Umbilical Cord
Wash hands before and after all baby cares. Fold the nappy down under the cord to encourage the cord to dry out, and prevent contamination by urine and faeces. Try not to touch the cord as this will reduce the risk of cross infection. Avoid tight fitting clothes, to encourage air circulation around the cord. The clamp may be left on, as the weight of it will encourage separation. You can give your baby a shallow bath using just plain water. Only clean the cord if it has been contaminated with urine or faeces. Use plain water to do this.

Separation of the Cord
Cord separation usually occurs between 5 – 15 days, this may be delayed if your baby has received antibiotics or if the area has become infected. During separation small amounts of a sticky discharge may be at the junction of the cord and the skin. This is normal. After the cord has separated there may still be a small amount of sticky discharge for a few days. Again, this is normal.
Continue to keep the nappy under the cord until it is completely dry.

Signs of Infection
• Redness around the tummy button area
• Swelling and tenderness at the site
• Any bleeding.
• Any yellow / green discharge and/or an unpleasant smell.
• Your baby may not feed well and become lethargic and have a raised temperature.
• If you notice any of these symptoms please let your midwife, neonatal nurse, health visitor or GP know at once as your baby may need to have some antibiotic medicine.

British Coluumbia (2001) Newborn guidelines 10. Care of the umbilical cord. British Columbia Reproductive care programme, Richmond, Vancouver.
Cincinnati children’s (2007) Babies and infants home care/Umbilical cord care. Cincinnati Children’s hospital medical center.
McConnell.T, Lee.C, Couillard.M, Westbrook.W (2004) Trends in umbilical cord care; Scientific evidence for practice, Newborn and infant nursing reviews, Vol 4, December pp211-22.