factsheet: cleaning the umbilical cord stump

After your baby is delivered their umbilical cord will be clamped with forceps and then cut with scissors, a few centimetres away from the belly button. There aren’t any nerves in the cord so this won’t hurt your baby at all.

The few centimetres of cord that are still attached to your baby make up the stump. This will shrivel up and turn black within a few days and then drop off completely in about a week. Sometimes the cord falls off in pieces rather than at once – if this happens don’t worry it’s quite common.

keeping it clean

It’s important to keep the stump clean so that it doesn’t get infected. It’s normal to see a few spots of blood or even a small discharge after the stump has fallen off. If however, the area around the belly button starts to look red and inflamed and the skin feels hot, you should speak to your midwife of GP in case there’s an infection.

Don’t worry if the stump smells a bit. It should only last for a couple of days.

how to clean the stump

There are a number of different ways to clean the cord stump. We are going to explain the most common.

what you will need

  1. Sterilised bowl
  2. Cooled boiled water
  3. Cotton wool
  4. Clean Towel
  5. Changing mat

what to do

  1. Make sure the room is warm enough so that your baby doesn’t get cold and upset
  2. Lie your baby on the changing mat and take off enough of his clothes to get to the cord stump
  3. Dip a cotton wool ball in the cooled boiled water and gently wipe the whole area around the stump. Use a new cotton wool ball every time to keep it as clean as possible.
  4. Don’t rub or pull at the stump itself. Any of the black stump residue which remains should be left to fall off in it’s own time.
  5. Use more cotton wool or the clean towel and thoroughly dry the whole area around the belly button.
  6. Leave the stump exposed to the air as long as you can – it needs to be kept as dry as possible so that it can heal and fall off.

Your midwife may recommend another method of cleaning the stump. She may give you a powder called Ster-Zac that you sprinkle on to the belly button to help dry it out. Alternatively, she may use a surgical alcohol wipe to clean the stump which again, will dry it out. In some cases, you may be advised just to leave the whole area alone until it has fallen off and healed on its own. If you’re unsure, ask your midwife.

anything else?

The most important thing is to keep the stump as dry as you can and expose it to the air frequently. It may be a good idea to avoid using plastic pants until the stump has completely healed as they can trap moist air around the belly button area.

Don’t rub or irritate the area around the stump. You may find that your baby will be more comfortable if you roll down the waistband of his nappy to keep it away. If you want, you can buy special newborn nappies with a small panel cut out of the front.

If you notice a small swelling around the belly button area you should see your GP. This can be a sign of an umbilical hernia.