Your baby’s umbilical cord was the all-important connection from your baby to the placenta, the organ responsible for nourishment.

When your baby is born, this cord is clamped and cut, leaving a small remaining bit of cord at the newborn’s abdomen. This is called the umbilical stump. While rare, it’s possible for the stump to become infected and bleed. Proper cord care can ensure that this doesn’t occur.

How Should I Care for My Baby’s Umbilical Cord?

The goals for umbilical cord care are to keep the cord clean and dry until it is able to fall off on its own.

Since the cord doesn’t have nerve endings, your baby won’t feel pain or discomfort when the cord falls off or when you clean it.

To practice umbilical cord care, do the following.

  • Change your baby’s diapers often to prevent urine or stool from reaching the cord.
  • If the area around the cord appears dirty, clean it with a baby wipe or mild soap and water.
  • Clean around the cord with a rubbing alcohol pad or dip a cotton ball in rubbing alcohol. The alcohol will disinfect the area and help the cord to dry out and fall off. Do this about four times per day. The other times you change your baby, just avoid hitting the cord.
  • Ensure that your baby’s diaper is not touching the cord. Many newborn diapers have a curve or dip in them to prevent hitting the cord. You can also fold the top of the diaper down and outward.

Some “don’ts” for cord care include the following.

  • Don’t bathe your baby in the sink or tub until the cord falls off. Submerging the cord can affect its ability to dry out.
  • Don’t pull or tug at the cord in an attempt to get it to fall off.

How Long Will It Take for the Umbilical Cord to Fall Off?

According to Seattle Children’s Hospital, most umbilical cords will fall off between 10 and 14 days after your baby’s birth. The cord will start to dry out and get smaller in size. It will often appear dried and scab-like before it falls off.

Cords can fall off earlier than this and later too — neither occurrence is usually cause for concern. If your baby’s cord has not fallen off by 14 days, know that it will fall off eventually.

What Is Normal Umbilical Bleeding?

You can expect to see a small amount of umbilical cord bleeding. Initially, this can be from where the cord separated from your baby’s body.

If your baby’s diaper rubs against the cord, this can also cause umbilical bleeding. Again, it should subside quickly and be only a few drops. You may also see clear, mucus-like secretions that are slightly streaked with blood.

Treat normal umbilical cord bleeding by cleaning the area around the umbilical cord and applying a small amount of pressure to the umbilical stump to slow and stop the bleeding. Ensure that your baby’s diaper is not pressing or rubbing against the umbilical stump to prevent future bleeding episodes.

When Should I Be Concerned About My Baby’s Umbilical Bleeding?

If you have difficulty stopping your baby’s umbilical cord from bleeding or the blood is more than a few drops, you may want to consider calling your baby’s doctor.

This bleeding could indicate an infection. Other accompanying infection signs include the following.

  • The belly button feels warmer than the skin surrounding it.
  • There is cloudy or pus-like drainage around the belly button. Sometimes it will have a foul smell.
  • Your baby seems to be uncomfortable or in pain if the belly button is touched.

The Takeaway

While an infection of the umbilical cord is rare, it can occur. Practice cord care with each diaper change and keep the diaper away from the cord stump to prevent excess bleeding or infection.