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Umbilical cord care

When a baby is in the womb, the umbilical cord is the way that they get blood supply and nutrients from the mother.

Once the baby is born, the cord is clamped and cut, leaving a small stump. Over the next 1 or 2 weeks, this will slowly start to change colour, dry out and eventually will drop off to form the baby’s belly button.

Generally, the stump will fall off between 5 to 15 days after birth, however if the baby has been given antibiotics or there is an infection of the stump this may take longer.

There are no nerves in the umbilical cord so your baby will not feel any pain when it does drop off.

How to care for the umbilical cord

As a general rule, if you keep the cord dry and clean, this will reduce the chances of infection and encourage it to drop off. Simple things you can do are:

  • wash your hands before caring for your baby and try not to touch the cord
  • try to keep the cord out of the nappy area as this will help to prevent pee and poo from getting on the cord and also help it to dry out more quickly
  • only clean the cord if pee or poo get on it and just use water to do this. You can still give your baby a bath in shallow water
  • keep the clamp on the umbilical cord until the cord has fallen off
  • avoid tight fitting clothes so that air can get to the cord

Signs of infection

Signs of infection include:

  • redness around the umbilical cord on your baby’s tummy. This may also spread outwards
  • the cord may start leaking pus or blood
  • it may start to smell
  • it may become more swollen
  • your baby might not feed well or may develop a fever

If you suspect that your baby might have an infection of their umbilical cord then speak to your GP, health visitor or midwife for advice. If your baby has a fever then you should go to A&E as this may be a sign there is a more serious infection (fever in babies under 3 months old is more worrying than when they are older).

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Please note: this is a generic information sheet relating to care at Sheffield Children’s NHS FT. These details may not reflect treatment at other hospitals. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professionals’ instructions. If this resource relates to medicines, please read it alongside the medicine manufacturer’s patient information leaflet. If this information has been translated into another language from English, efforts have been made to maintain accuracy, but there may still be some translation errors. If you are unsure about any of the guidance in this resource or have specific questions about how it relates to your child, always ask your healthcare professional for further advice.

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