The question:
What is the best way to care for a newborn's umbilical cord, and how long will it stay attached?

The physician answers:
The umbilical cord stump is normally about one to two inches long, depending on where it was clamped after delivery. It is a reminder as to where your infant was attached to you in the uterus. Within one to three days after birth, it will turn from a fleshy whitish-pink to a smaller black stump. This stump will fall off between 10 days and 4 weeks after birth. However, while still attached it requires special care to keep it free from infection. When diapering your newborn, fold the diaper down below the cord so that it remains exposed to air (this will hasten the drying process.) Special diapers are sold with a cut-out for the cord, but folding a regular diaper below the cord works just as well. Each time you change your newborn's diaper, gently hold the end of the cord upward while taking a sterile cotton ball soaked in rubbing alcohol and clean the base of the cord (where it connects to her body.) This will not only keep it free from infection but will help speed up the falling off process.

It is also important to keep the area dry, so only sponge bathe your newborn until the cord falls off, making sure to avoid the umbilical area. And lastly, if there is any foul-smelling odor or discharge, or redness in the area of the umbilical stump, call your baby's physician for further evaluation. (Read this page about what to do if baby's cord stump doesn't fall off.)

Dr Jane Forester
Family Physician
Glencoe, IL

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