Home from the Hospital: Caring For Your Baby’s Umbilical Cord

After a long labour, your baby is finally out and the umbilical cord, which was carrying important nutrients and blood from you to your baby. However, a stump will still remain attached to your baby’s belly button when you bring baby home and only drop off one to two weeks later. Aminah Mohamed, Lactation Consultant at Gleneagles Hospital shares more about the umbilical cord and how to care for it after you leave the hospital.

What is the function of the umbilical cord?

The umbilical cord, a very important structure, connects your baby to the placenta. It contains two arteries and a vein. These blood vessels are protected by Wharton’s jelly, the whitish substance. Oxygen and other nutrients are transferred to your baby via the vein and carbon dioxide and waste from your baby is removed via the two arteries. The cord is about 1- 2 cm in diameter and 50-60cm. long.

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After delivery, the cord vessels close by themselves. The arteries close first, helped by their thicker muscular walls. This prevents blood loss to the placenta from your baby. The umbilical vein closes slightly later (starting at 15 seconds, but only completed by 3 or 4 minutes). This allows blood to continue to return to your baby during the first few minutes of life. There are no nerves within the cord, so cutting the cord after delivery is a painless procedure for your baby.

Does the cord stump require special care?

The cord stump should be kept clean and dry. Use an alcohol swab to clean the base of the cord stump and the cord itself twice a day to prevent infection. As the cord stump dries, it will change colour from yellowish-green to brown and black, and eventually, fall off by itself in 7-14 days. Sometimes it may take a little longer but usually not more than a month.

As the stump falls off faster when it is dry, fold the baby’s diaper below the stump so that it is exposed to air, not urine, which allows air to circulate and aid the drying process. Sometimes when the stump drops off, there may be a little blood. This is normal. Continue to clean the area (even after the stump drops off) until the area heals completely. Do not put any medicated oil or powder on the stump or in your baby’s belly button. Remember to always wash your hands before and after handling your baby’s cord.

Your baby may cry as you are cleaning his umbilical cord, but don’t worry too much. There are no nerve fibres in the cord, so you aren’t hurting him.

Call a doctor if:

  • The cord stump is moist and smells bad
  • There is discharge from the base of the cord
  • The naval and the surrounding area is swollen or red
  • Baby develops a fever or appears unwell

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