The umbilical cord connects you to your baby in the womb and acts as a link from the placenta to your baby’s belly button and stomach. The average cord is about 50cm long. In the placenta, oxygen and nutrients from your bloodstream pass into your baby’s bloodstream along the umbilical cord.
You’ve been clamped
Soon after your baby is born, the umbilical cord is clamped with a small plastic clamp about 3 to 4cm from your little one’s belly button, with a second clamp placed on the end of the cord near to the placenta.
The cord’s then cut between these two points and this separates you from your baby, leaving a stump of cord about 2 to 3cm long on your newborn’s belly button. The midwife checks the cord as part of her daily examination of your little one and these checks are continued by the community midwife after you’ve been discharged from hospital.
Home and dry
Once out of the hospital, you must keep the cord out of your baby’s nappy to allow it to dry naturally. Water should only be used if required or during bathing, as research has shown that routine cleansing can delay separation and actually cause an infection.
If the cord is contaminated, with poo for instance, and does need cleaning, ideally use cool, boiled water to clean the area and then make sure it’s dried.
Dip a cotton wool ball in the water and gently wipe the whole area around the stump, using a new cotton wool ball every time you dip. Avoid using dry cotton wool as the filaments can stick to the cord after cleaning.
Time to drop off
A clean, odour-free cord that remains moist for two to three days and then starts to turn black and dry out, is a healthy and normal cord wound and nothing to worry about.
After the stump comes off, it usually takes about seven to 10 days for the belly button to heal completely and during that time it’s still important to keep that area clean and dry to prevent infection.
How to care for your baby’s cord:
- Leave the cord above the nappy so it’s exposed to the air. Then it can dry naturally.
- Avoid routine cleansing of the cord.
- Watch for early signs of infection (odour and discharge from the cord) or if it remains moist after two to three days.
- Make sure the cord and clamp are not rubbing your baby’s skin, so use loose-fitting tops and babygros until the cord drops off.
There’s something wrong with your baby’s cord wound if:
- There’s redness at the base of the cord.
- An odour is coming from it.
- You notice a discharge coming from the cord or from it’s base.
- The cord is bleeding (but slight bleeding is normal when the cord is cut).
- Speak to your midwife or health visitor if you notice any of the above, or your baby appears unwell or feverish.