Your Baby's Umbilical Cord

The umbilical cord connects the unborn baby to the mother through the placenta throughout the pregnancy. This is how the growing baby gets all the nutrition and oxygen needed.

Within a few minutes after your baby is born, the cord is clamped and cut close to the belly button. There are no nerves in the cord so your baby does not feel this at all. The clamp can be removed when the cord has dried, usually before your baby leaves the hospital.

By the time your baby goes home from the hospital, the cord begins to dry and shrink. The color changes from pale to dark brown and it may look like a scab. The cord falls off by itself in about two to three weeks.

Because the umbilical cord may be a place for infection to enter your baby's body, it is important to care for it properly.

  • When the umbilical cord becomes wet with urine, gently clean the base of the umbilical cord with mild soap and warm water. Rinse the area and pat it dry.
  • Keep the belly button area dry and expose it to air as much as possible to help the cord dry. You may need to fold the top of the diaper down and out.
  • Change your baby’s diaper frequently, with every feeding. A wet diaper on the cord keeps the cord from drying and increases the risk of infection.
  • Do not bathe your baby in a tub or sink until the cord falls off. You may give your baby a sponge bath until then.
  • Most of the time the cord falls off within two weeks. When this happens you might notice a small pink area in the bottom of the belly button. This is expected, and normal skin will grow over it.
  • Do not pull the cord off yourself, even if it is hanging on just by a thread.

Call your baby’s doctor or go to the hospital emergency room if your baby has any of these problems:

  • The belly button is red.
  • The belly button is warmer than the skin around it.
  • The belly button seems tender to the touch.
  • You see drainage or notice a bad odor.

These are signs that there may be an infection. 


Last Updated 12/2013