Becoming parents to a little baby is embracing a little bundle of joy in your arms. At the moment the baby is conceived you utter silent vows to take care of your child all your life and protect him or her from everything. Taking care of your child at all levels and all stages is the biggest responsibility for a parent. As a new parent, it is likely that you make mistakes and learn a lot of minute details in raising a child. The child’s health should be your utmost priority and there are a lot of new things you need to learn about your growing child’s health. Taking care of the umbilical cord of your newborn baby is something you must know as a parent. It needs attention and care to keep it free from infections, as a newborn child is prone to various kinds of infections at this stage. It is a part of your daily routine to clean and care for the stump. Here is all you need to know about umbilical cord and its care.

What is an umbilical cord?

The umbilical cord is the link between the mother and the child. It acts as a bonding that attaches the baby to the mother’s womb. Even while being in the womb the child is a living creature which needs its supply of food and nutrition to grow. As your child starts growing in the womb, it begins to receive nourishment through the placenta in the fetal stage. The baby is dependent on the mother for its food and supply of oxygen to live and breathe. The unborn fetus lives through oxygen and nourishment received from the mother’s body through this placenta. This placenta, which provides the child with the nourishment, is attached to the wall of the uterus of the mother’s body. It is connected with the baby through a long cord like structure known as the umbilical cord. This cord is attached to the baby’s abdomen and forms the link with the mother’s body.

What happens to the umbilical cord after birth?

When the baby is born, the umbilical cord is still attached to the mother’s body through the umbilical cord. It is cut close to the baby’s body after delivery and only a stump is left at the baby’s navel for a few days after birth. It is purplish blue in color and is about an inch long in size. The stump eventually dries up and falls off in one to three weeks after birth. After it drops off there may be a small wound left in that place which takes a few days more to heal and dry. It is normal to bleed a bit after the stump falls off. Do not be worried if you notice a little blood on the baby’s diaper. At times when the stump falls there may be a fluid discharge in some babies. Sometimes it may so happen that even after the stump has fallen off there may remain some lumps of flesh. Usually these granulomas disappear soon without any external help. It is not an infection, as the baby does not experience any signs of irritation, fever, swelling or pain. These are harmless and can also be removed by a doctor if they refuse to go away on their own. This process is called cauterization, which involves burning the tissues using silver nitrate. It is a painless procedure, as these lumps do not contain nerves.

How to take care of an umbilical cord stump?

The umbilical cord stump dries up and falls on its own but till then and for some time after it has fallen off it needs some special care. You must know the right ways in which you can maintain your child’s hygiene by taking right care of the umbilical cord stump. Proper cleaning of the umbilical cord stump is very necessary to avoid risks of infection.

  • Always keep the stump clean and free from moisture. Make sure the area is always dry to avoid infection. Moisture breeds infections and prevents the drying and shriveling of the stump.
  • The baby’s diaper should be away from the stump so that it doesn’t come into contact with urine. This can infect the area. Moreover, the stump should be exposed to air. Always fold the diaper away from the baby’s umbilical stump or you can also buy newborn diapers, which have a cut out space to keep the stump exposed.
  • Pat the area dry while changing diapers if the area appears moist to you.
  • Do not make the baby wear heavy clothes, which causes sweat or covers the stump area. Air circulation helps in speeding up the drying process.
  • If it is possible, make the child wear only a diaper and a loose t-shirt to keep the navel area exposed to air. This will keep your child dry and comfortable and speed up the healing process.
  • Do not give tub baths so soon. The stump should not be submerged in water, which happens in case of a tub bath. Give the child a sponge bath gently and make sure the body is dry. You must take care not to rub the area in any way.
  • Do not try to pull the stump even if it appears dry and hanging. It may result in bleeding and pain and even cause infections. Let it dry and fall off on its own.
  • Do not use alcohol or any other liquid to clean the stump. Earlier it was advised that alcohol should be used in the cleaning process but recent research has proved and it has been seen that untreated cord stumps heal and dry faster.
  • If you need to clean the stump area you should soak a cotton swab in warm water and mild antiseptic soap and gently wipe the skin around the stump. Squeeze out excess water from the cotton swab. Gently wipe any dirty or sticky substances around the stump. Use a clean, dry, soft cotton cloth to pat the area dry and keep it uncovered.

What is an umbilical cord infection?

The drying and healing of the umbilical cord stump is a natural process and infections are usually rare. But at times complications may arise due to rare conditions or carelessness in keeping the child clean. You must consult the child’s doctor if you notice any of these symptoms of infection:-

  • The cord stump or the skin around it looks sore and the baby cries whenever you touch it.
  • The skin around the stump looks red and swollen.
  • There is a constant yellowish discharge from the stump or if it emits a foul smell.
  • The stump bleeds continuously and does not heal.
  • If you notice pus around the stump.
  • After the stump has fallen the wound looks sore instead of healing on its own.
  • Also contact the doctor if the drying of the stump is delayed beyond 3 weeks.

There are some other rare complications as well like omphalitis, which is a kind of bacterial infection around the stump and the skin surrounding it. It is very rare and happens in about 1 out of 200 newborn babies but is serious in nature and needs immediate medical treatment. Rush your child to the doctor if you notice redness and infection around the stump or its surrounding area. Complications from umbilical granuloma are even rarer and happen in about 1 out of 500 newborn children. In this case the lumps of flesh that remain after the stump has fallen off may become show mucus and even start growing instead of shriveling up.

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