Cute as a button

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One day soon, you’ll look forward to giving your baby raspberries on her adorable little tummy. But, when you’ve just brought her home, your first attention to that belly will involve learning how to care for her umbilical cord stump. Rest assured, it’s a lot easier than you might think.

What’s going on there?

When your baby is born, medical staff will clamp the umbilical cord stump with a yellow plastic clip. This clip is usually removed before you are discharged from hospital; however, in some cases it may be left on. Either way, the cord stump will dry out, turn black, and break off within the first two weeks of your baby’s life. Always let the stump come away by itself; don’t be tempted to pull on it! The small wound it leaves behind will then heal and become your baby’s belly button.

What do I do?

The most important thing caregivers need to do is to keep the area clean and dry. You can do this by giving your baby a bath, or “topping and tailing” – cleaning her with plain water and a warm, moist flannel or sponge.

Gently pat the area dry with a soft clean towel and make sure that the stump has dried properly before putting on your baby’s nappy. Beware: boys have a tendency to pee upwards and may get the stump wet! If this happens just wash and dry the area again. 

Always wash your hands before and after changing a nappy, and before touching your baby’s stump. Use newborn nappies and fold down the top section at the front to prevent any irritation caused by the nappy rubbing against the cord stump.

You might have been told by older family members or friends to swab the area with medicated alcohol; however, more recent research has shown that we really do not need to apply any lotions or potions, and that using antiseptics can mean that the stump takes longer to fall off.

Is everything OK?

It is normal for the stump to look a bit mucky while it heals, and doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s infected. Some cord stumps do smell a little different, but if your baby’s stump becomes very offensive and has a pus-like discharge, talk to your midwife, GP or paediatrician. In rare cases, the area can become infected and your baby might need antibiotics to clear it up.

Rosie Murtagh is originally from Australia and is an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) and non-practising midwife. Please visit to learn more.

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