The umbilical cord

Your baby’s umbilical cord was the all-important connection between your baby and 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 your 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.

What is normal umbilical cord bleeding?

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

If your baby’s diaper rubs against the cord, this can also cause umbilical bleeding. 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 isn’t pressing or rubbing against the umbilical stump to prevent future bleeding episodes.

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’s 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, preferably, mild soap and water.
  • Parents previously were instructed to clean around the cord with rubbing alcohol several times a day. Studies have shown, however, that this isn’t necessary and may actually lengthen the time it takes for the umbilical stump to fall off.
  • Ensure that your baby’s diaper isn’t 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.
  • Don’t put a band or anything else tightly over the umbilical cord. Exposure to air helps the cord to stay dry.

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 fall off, on average, 10 to 14 days after your baby’s birth (the range runs from about 7 to 21 days). The cord starts to dry out and gets smaller in size. It often appears 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 hasn’t fallen off by 14 days, know that it will fall off eventually.

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 call your baby’s doctor. This bleeding could indicate an infection.

Other accompanying infection signs include the following:

  • The skin surrounding the belly button looks very red. The belly button may feel warmer than the skin surrounding it.
  • There is cloudy or pus-like drainage around the belly button. Sometimes it has a foul smell. Some discharge and odor can be normal as the cord is separating.
  • 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.