Typically, your baby’s umbilical cord will detach by two weeks after birth. However, there are natural variations and this can happen earlier or later.

umbilical cord stump on baby bellyShare on Pinterest
Jessica Byrum/Stocksy United

You’ve been peeping at your baby’s umbilical cord at every diaper change with a mixture of fascination and, well, a little disgust. After all, the little stump is a souvenir of the 9 months you spent with a special connection, even if it’s looking a little gross these days.

Now that umbilical cord is about to fall off. You may wonder when it should happen and whether the blood or discharge you see is normal. Learn more about what to expect below.

You can expect the cord to fall off between 5 and 15 days after your baby is born. Around 2 weeks is the average amount of time, but sometimes the cord may fall off a little earlier or later. This is perfectly normal.

As you watch the shiny yellow cord turn gray-black, you may be tempted to wiggle the cord a little just to hurry things along, especially when it seems loose. Resist the temptation and let nature take the lead.

Until recently, parents were instructed to gently swab the umbilical cord area with 70% alcohol. And that’s still OK, particularly in areas with fewer resources and higher infection risk. But the winds of change have blown, and there’s good news for those who cringe about swabbing: Alcohol swabs are passé.

Alcohol swabs may actually kill the industrious bacteria that help the cord to dry and detach. A 2016 study showed that best practice is to keep the area clean and dry. Here’s how to do that:

  • Use a cotton swab or washcloth dampened with water (and soap if you must) to wipe away any blood or secretions. Don’t worry — a few drops of blood and clear secretions are totally fine. The area is healing.
  • Dab the area dry. There are no nerve endings in the navel cord, so your baby won’t feel any pain.
  • Keep the front of your baby’s diaper folded down (or use diapers with an umbilical cord peephole) so that the area is open to the air.
  • Dress your baby in loose clothing so that the cord is exposed and can dry out. Instead of snap-crotch one-piece styles, go for kimono-style undershirts that allow more air circulation.
  • Stick with sponge baths to make it easier to keep the cord dry. Once it has detached, your baby can kick in a tub.

One fine diaper change, you’ll find out that the dried out umbilical cord has detached. Celebrate one of your baby’s first milestones and that adorable little belly button! Caring for the navel area is easy:

  • Wipe away any remaining secretions with a dampened washcloth and pat dry.
  • Stick to sponge baths for a couple of days longer and then let your baby indulge in a tub.

Slight bleeding is perfectly normal. This is part of the healing process. You may also notice some pink scar tissue or a bit of clear yellow discharge. This is also perfectly normal.

Fortunately, the chances of an infected umbilical cord are very low. Only 1 out of 200 infants experience omphalitis (an infection of the umbilical stump and surrounding area). But doctors do suggest keeping a careful watch on your baby’s navel area anyway for the first few weeks after birth.

This is especially true if your baby is a preemie or has low birth weight or the cord fell off early.

You may see a red lump where the cord fell off that could be covered in clear or yellow discharge. This is known as an umbilical granuloma. If you notice this, keep the area clean and dry and let your pediatrician know. Addressing the granuloma can help to prevent infection.

Also contact your pediatrician if you see any of the following symptoms:

  • red and swollen navel area
  • a lump on or near the umbilical cord
  • pus instead of a little clear discharge in the area
  • bleeding instead of a little dried blood
  • irritability, refusal to eat, or fever in your baby

Dry care for speedy umbilical cord detachment wins, hands down! The hands-off approach to cord care should give you a little more time to spend enjoying your time with your new arrival.