How To Look After The Umbilical Cord

Soon after your baby’s birth, your birth partner or your midwife and you will decide when to clamp and cut their umbilical cord.

Soon after your baby’s birth, your birth partner or your midwife and you will decide when to clamp and cut their umbilical cord. Neither you nor your newborn will feel anything when this happens, as there are no nerves in the cord. 

Where the cord joins your newborn's tummy, they will have a 2cm to 3cm-long stump. It is very important to keep it clean and free from infection until it falls off naturally.

How long will my baby have an umbilical stump?
Your baby's stump can fall off any time between five days and 15 days after birth. The average is about a week if it is kept dry. 

When your baby is born, your midwife will put a plastic clamp or a tie on the stump. She may take this off once the stump has dried and sealed, although, in some countries, it is left on. 

The stump itself will shrivel up and change from yellowish-green to brown or black when it should then drop off by itself. Be sure to let the stump come away naturally. Don’t pull on it.

How can I care for my baby's stump?
1. You'll need to keep your baby’s umbilical stump clean and dry to prevent it from becoming infected. Always wash your hands before and after you change your little one’s nappy or before you wash them or touch their stump. Dress your baby in loose clothing, to allow air to get to the cord.
2. Whenever you change your baby's nappy, pay special attention to the area at the base of the cord, nearest to the belly button. Wipe it gently but thoroughly to clean out any moist debris that may have collected. Cotton wool works well for this. Don't worry about hurting your baby – there are no nerve endings in the cord stump.
3. Try to allow air to reach the cord stump as much as possible. This will help it heal and dry faster.
4. Try to prevent nappies from rubbing against the stump. You can fold the nappy down under the cord stump to prevent it touching.
5. Let the cord stump fall off on its own. In the past, cleaning the stump with rubbing alcohol was often suggested. New data suggest that natural drying will allow the cord to fall off faster.
6. While your new-born still has their umbilical cord, it's best to give a quick top and tail bath rather than submerging the cord stump. Once the cord has fallen off, feel free to bathe your little one in a baby tub or sink.
Identifying warning signs:
1. If the cord oozes yellow pus, develops a bad odour or the area around the base is red and swollen, it may be infected. If any of these occur you should contact your midwife, GP or PHN.
2. Redness can also be caused by the dry cord stump irritating the nearby skin. To determine what is causing the irritation, gently push the stump away from the red area and mark the margin of redness with a pen. Wait 30 to 60 minutes and check it again. If the redness is still there, and especially if it has spread beyond your mark, you should inform your healthcare provider ASAP. If the redness is just irritation from the stump, it will take care of itself in a little while.
3. Occasionally, you may see small amounts of bleeding from the navel. This is normal as the blood vessels separate. If you notice bleeding, first try applying a little pressure. If the bleeding doesn't stop after about five minutes of constant pressure, call your healthcare provider.
4. After the cord falls off, you may notice a reddish moist lump or nodule near where the cord fell off that may get slightly larger and continue to ooze slightly. This is called an umbilical granuloma. Your healthcare provider may treat it with a drying medication called silver nitrate.
Laura Doyle, mum of 4. Kyle 9, Noa Belle 4, Briar 2 and Milla 12 months. Breastfeeder, co-sleeper, coffee drinker. Staying positive and inspired inthe chaos of it all. Writer and blogger at

Laura Doyle

Mum of four, Gentle parent living on coffee and trying always to stay positive and motivate in the midst of the madness.

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