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Umbilical cord care

5-minute read

Key facts

  • Taking care of your newborn baby’s umbilical stump helps prevent infection.
  • In the uterus (womb), the umbilical cord delivers the oxygen and nutrients your baby needs to grow — this cord is clamped and cut after birth, leaving the umbilical stump.
  • The stump will fall off naturally in a week or two, and you don’t need to take it off.
  • Once the umbilical stump falls off and heals, it will become your baby’s belly button.
  • Good hygiene is the best way to encourage healing — see your doctor or child health nurse if your baby’s umbilical area becomes infected.

Why does my baby’s umbilical cord need care?

Umbilical cord care prevents infection of the small part of the umbilical cord that stays attached to your baby for a short time after birth, known as the umbilical stump.

In the uterus (womb), the umbilical cord delivers the oxygen and nutrients needed to allow your baby to grow. After birth, the cord is clamped and cut, leaving the umbilical stump. This eventually falls off, healing to form the umbilicus (belly button). There are ways for you to prevent problems during healing.

What happens immediately after the birth?

After birth, the doctor or midwife cuts your baby’s umbilical cord from the placenta and puts a clamp on the remaining stump, to pinch it off. This will not hurt you or your baby.

Do not remove the clamp – it will fall off on its own.

How long does my baby’s cord stay attached for?

Your baby’s umbilical cord stump usually stays attached for around 5 to 10 days. Over this time, the cord dries, shrinks and turns black. Sometimes, especially in the day or so before it falls off, the stump can ooze a little and may leave marks on your baby’s clothes. This is all normal and there is no need to worry.

Do not pull the cord stump off, even if it looks like it will come off easily, as this can delay healing time and cause scarring. Let the cord stump fall off naturally, in its own time.

When the stump falls off, there is sometimes a little bleeding at the stump site. This is normal and it should stop quickly, and doesn’t need medical attention.

See your doctor or child health nurse if you have any concerns.

The Pregnancy, Birth and Baby video call service allows you to speak face-to-face with a maternal child health nurse. Video call is a free service and is available from 7am to midnight (AET), 7 days a week (including public holidays).

How do I care for my baby’s umbilical cord?

Before you touch your baby’s umbilical cord area, wash your hands thoroughly. You can then gently wash the cord stump as part of your baby’s usual bathing routine.

Directions for washing:

  • Use only water and cotton pads to wash the area.
  • You don’t need to use antiseptics or special creams.
  • Dry the area around the stump carefully. You can pat it dry gently with a towel or soft cloth.
  • Allow the area time to air dry if the weather is not too cold.
  • If wee or poo gets on the stump, you can use a mild soap to help clean it off.

Don’t cover the cord with the nappy. This will allow it to dry out in the air. If your baby’s nappy covers the stump, simply fold it over at the top, so it sits below your baby’s belly button area. There is no need to cover the cord stump with adhesive plasters or bandages, as this stops airflow around the stump.

Other than when you’re washing the cord stump, try not to touch it. It will fall off by itself.

How long does my baby’s belly button take to heal?

Your baby’s belly button should heal completely in a few days. It’s normal for it to bleed or ooze a little after the cord falls off. If there is continuous stickiness or discharge, it may be infected and you should show your doctor or child health nurse.

Sometimes the belly button does not heal completely and moist red tissue forms over the stump site, which may form a small lump. This is called a ‘granuloma’. It is usually harmless, but you should ask your doctor or child health nurse to have a look at it.

How can I tell if my baby’s cord is infected?

Signs of an infection of the belly button may include:

  • redness
  • swelling
  • stickiness
  • a bad smell

Your baby might also show signs of being generally unwell, like fever, poor feeding and sleepiness.

If you think your baby’s cord stump or belly button is infected, see your doctor as soon as possible.

Fever in young babies is dangerous. If your baby is under 3 months old and has a fever above 38°C they need to see a doctor urgently, even if they have no other symptoms. If you can’t see your doctor straight away, go to the nearest hospital emergency department or call triple zero (000) and ask for an ambulance.

Resources and support

  • Call your baby’s child health nurse for ongoing care and support.
  • Call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby to speak to a maternal child health nurse on 1800 882 436 or video call. Available 7am to midnight (AET), 7 days a week.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: February 2023

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