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How to Care for Your Baby's Umbilical Cord

No need to be creeped out: Here's a new mom's primer on what it is and what to do about it until it falls off

The umbilical cord starts off as your baby's lifeline, her source of nourishment in the womb. But after your beautiful baby is born, that support is no longer needed.

The doctor snips it and clamps it, leaving a stub for parents to stare at, patiently waiting for it to fall off.

"On average, it takes about seven to 10 days for the umbilical cord to fall off," says Kelly Kirtley, a registered nurse at Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital.

In the meantime, parents still have to bathe their newborn, including the umbilical cord stub. And for some, that can seem daunting.

Clean and infection-free

When it comes to cleaning the umbilical cord, parents don't need to worry. Years ago, they were advised to use alcohol to dry out and clean the area, keeping it free of infection.

These days, a solution called triple dye is applied right after delivery, taking alcohol's place as the infection-prevention technique.

"It helps the umbilical cord to dry out and it prevents infection," Kirtley says.

Take note!

When you take your little angel home, remember these words: Do not immerse the baby into the bathtub! Kirtley says to keep the area dry, only giving your baby a sponge bath, in order for the cord to fall off more efficiently.

"If it gets wet, it will not fall off as easily and may develop an odor to it," Kirtley says.

Kirtley advises parents to contact their doctor if odor, redness or bleeding occur at the umbilical cord site. These things are not normal and should not be ignored.

Diapering

When it comes to diapering your baby, make sure that the diaper is rolled underneath the umbilical cord, preventing the diaper and the cord from coming into contact.

Some newborn diapers, such as Pampers Newborn Swaddlers and Huggies, have u-shaped cutouts, designed to keep the diaper and the cord from touching.

Relax

New parents should have no fear when caring for their baby before the umbilical cord falls off, so don't fret over it.

Kirtley says parents shouldn't be intimidated for caring for their baby's umbilical cord area. She says they should look at it like a scab, and just as scabs heal and then fall off, cords fall off, too. Just remember that you should not try to force the cord to come off.

Jennifer Schuman, a certified nurse midwife as Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital, advises parents to ask questions and raise concern to their nurses.

"Trust your nurse to teach you well," Schuman says.

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