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Sometimes described poetically as the “String Of Life”, Umbilical cord is the connection between mother and the baby. It is cut immediately after birth and a stump is left behind.
This Raw and blood stained stump can be a disconcerting sight for new parents. Many questions are especially concerning. Read on to understand what this structure is and how you should take care of them.
What is an umbilical cord ?
Umbilical cord is a bundle of blood vessels that connects the baby to the placenta which is in turn attached to the uterus of the mother. This “string of life” carries oxygenated blood along with nutrients necessary for the development of the fetus. It also carries waste products away from the fetus to the mother.
After birth as it is no longer needed, it is cut a few centimeters away from the navel and clamped using a sterile plastic clamp to stop the bleeding from the blood vessels.
When does the cord fall off?
Immediately after birth the cut end of the stump is red and raw, possibly stained with blood. This usually starts drying up over the next few days. Initially turning greenish and then gradually dries and becomes shriveled into a black dried up stump.
It can fall off anywhere between 5 and 15 days. If the stump is still attached after 3 weeks, it’s probably wise to check with your pediatrician.
How to care for the umbilical cord stump?
Umbilical cord stump infections are not uncommon. It can eventually lead to a generalized form of infection known as ‘Sepsis’, if not adequately and appropriately treated. Below are my recommendations to keep the stump infection free.
1. Wash and dry your hands
Always wash your hands with soap and dry with a clean towel or disposable paper napkin before and after touching the cord stump. Here the key thing is “Clean and Dry hands”.
Washing hands with soap is preferred over using an alcohol based hand sanitizer, as residual alcohol can irritate the skin and delay healing which in turn can delay eventual separation of the cord.
2. Stick to sponge baths
While you might be tempted to give long baths to cleanse off the birthing remains from your baby’s body, it is best to resist this temptation and stick to sponge baths until the cord falls off. This significantly reduces the exposure to pathogens.
During sponge baths avoid wiping or tugging the cord, instead use dabbing or patting motion to gently clean and dry the cord.
3. Expose it to air
Keep the cord stump exposed to air as much as possible to keep it dry. Moisture can increase the risk of infection.
4. Diaper delicately.
Diapers tend to cover the cord stump area, which can prevent the cord from drying and It can also risk contamination with urine or fecal matter. It is extremely vital to change the diaper frequently to avoid over soakage.
To avoid covering the stump with the top of the diaper you can fold down the front part of the diaper or cut out a notch in the front until the cord falls off.
5. Use loose clothes
Use loose fitting, soft cotton clothing that doesn’t tug or pull on the stump. Shirt style clothing is preferred as it will be easy to leave a button open to keep it away from the cord. Be cautious of strollers, car seat.
6. Leave it alone
Resist the temptation to pull or tug the cord. In simple words “leave it alone”. Even when you feel its about to fall off, try and let the process happen on its own.
What are the signs of umbilical stump infection?
Umbilical cord can act as a portal of entry for infections. This could be particularly morbid in newborn babies. Keep an eye out for following signs and symptoms to seek early treatment.
These symptoms can be generalised i.e, those which occur in any infection with/without signs infection of the umbilical cord stump or localised i.e, those which occur around the umbilicus.
When should I worry about my newborn’s umbilical cord?
You should visit your pediatrician if :
- There are any signs of infection as mentioned above
- The umbilical cord stump doesn’t fall off even after 3 weeks
- There is significant bleeding from the umbilicus after it falls off
- There is any discharge from the umbilicus at any age
- You notice a soft, pink or red lump with clear or yellow discharge
It is very common in India to apply mustard oil or herbal pastes to the umbilicus in both rural and urban communities. Any substance that you apply to the umbilicus can act as a carrier of infectious pathogens and should be strictly avoided
Studies have shown no additional benefit of applying breast milk to the umbilicus. Any substance that you apply may act as a carrier of infectious pathogens that in turn could harm the baby
No, it is best to avoid applying anything to cord especially talc or cornstarch. Leave it alone and it will dry and fall off in due course of time. Talcum powder is associated with damaging lungs when accidentally inhaled by the newborn.
Turmeric is known for its anti-inflammatory properties and many other proven benefits. However it has no function in preventing infections. It is best to avoid applying any substance to umbilicus.
Antiseptic creams or powders are not recommended for routine use. These are prescribed by doctors only when there are signs of infection.
Alcohol is an irritant and can delay healing and eventual separation of the umbilical cord stump from umbilicus. So, it is best to avoid using rubbing alcohol to clean the stump. if the stump looks dirty then warm water is sufficient
You can wait until 3 weeks for the stump to fall off. If it has not separated by then it is best to visit your pediatrician.
Continue keeping the area dry and clean like you have been doing so far for the next 3-5 days. You can start bathing the baby after the area is completely healed.
Once the cord falls off the wound tends to be a little raw for the first 3-5 days during which it will dry out form a scab. Once you see a scab you can start giving baths to your baby. Do maintain caution and avoid rubbing the area vigorously
No , babies don’t feel any pain when the umbilical cord is cut. The umbilical cord is devoid of any nerve fibres to carry pain signals, which means absolutely No pain!
After the umbilical cord falls off the umbilicus may be stained with little blood and/or have creamy residues sticking to the umbilicus. You can use a clean wet cotton swab to clean it.
A foul smelling umbilical cord stump could be a sign of an infection. Look for other signs of infection and visit your pediatrician at the earliest.
A small quantity of blood after the umbilical cord falls off is normal. Bleeding that does not stop requires immediate medical attention.
once the umbilical cord stump falls off, you may want to wait 3-4 days for the raw area to dry up, after which it is safe to give full baths to your baby.