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New Baby: Umbilical Cord Care

Caring for your baby's healing cord stump in the days after birth

Posted: 8 September 2008
by Laura Lee Davies

The First 48 Hours of your baby's life will pass in a whirlwind. Even if the birth has been straightforward, there are medical checks and procedures (see link above for more on these) as well as that amazing chance for parents and baby to get to know each other at last.
Cutting the umbilical cord is one of the most significant moments. To a birth it's what the 'you may now kiss the bride' moment is during a wedding! But new parents are often fearful of how they need to look after this drying bloody stump.

What happens when the cord is cut
The umbilical cord is cut once the baby is born. (Some parents and birth practitioners still believe this moment is hugely symbolic and prefer it not to be done too quickly, but in regular hospital situations it will be done swiftly once the baby's breathing has been established. This does not have any negative medical implications for you or your baby.)
The cord is white and thickish and comes from where your baby's tummy button will be. It is cut causing no pain to your baby or to you, and is clamped with a plastic clip. This will be left on until the cord is completely dry to prevent any bleeding.

Caring for the cord stump
In the early days immediately after the birth, every time you are visited by a midwife (whilst at the hospital and then at home), the stump will be checked to ensure it is drying well and healthily.
If you are unsure how to care for your baby's stump then do ask a nurse at the hospital or your midwife to show you. However, whilst the stump can often get a little sticky at first, it very rarely becomes infected as the clamp will seal it off very effectively after the birth.
It is good to keep it clean, but do this gently as you do not want to pull your baby's skin. Use only cool boiled water and a clean piece of cotton wool to wash it, only doing this when you need to.
The stump might look dramatic and you might wonder how on early this is going to turn into a cute little tummy button, but underneath the stump that is just what is happening. Try to keep nappies loose-ish so that the rim of the nappy doesn't rub or pull at the clip, but do not be overworried; new babies do not move around as much as older babies so there shouldn't be too much friction between nappy and skin.
Do not be tempted to pull the cord stump off when it looks healed. It will fall off in its own time (you'll probably just see it in the cot or in your baby's nappy one day). If what you see is just tender new skin and does not look 'angry', it will quickly heal to become normal skin over a day or two. If you think it looks a little too raw, take your baby to the doctor just to get it checked out (or ask your midwife to have a look if you have not yet been discharged from her care).

Some parents now consider taking stem cells for storage when the cord is cut. (These cells are removed from the cord at birth and cannot be taken at a later time.) If you want to find out more about this, go to What is Stem Cell Collection?

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