The umbilical cord is the baby's lifeline to the mother during pregnancy. However, it is no longer needed once the baby is born. Within a few minutes after birth, a nurse or doctor will clamp the cord and cut it close to the navel. The clamp helps stop bleeding from the three blood vessels in the umbilical cord — two arteries and one vein.
By the time your baby goes home from the hospital, his or her umbilical cord is beginning to dry. The clamp is typically removed before you take your baby home. 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.
How to take care of your baby's umbilical cord
Your baby's doctor will give you instructions on how to care for your baby's umbilical cord, which include keeping it dry and exposed to the air. Give spongebaths until the cord falls off, and let your baby’s doctor know if the cord hasn’t fallen off by the time your baby is one month old.
Keep the cord outside of your baby's diaper. Some newborn-size diapers have special cutouts for the cord area, but you can also fold down the top edge of the diaper to expose the cord. Call your baby's doctor if there is:
- bleeding from the end of the cord or the area near the skin
- pus (a yellow or white discharge) on or around the cord
- swelling or redness around the navel
- signs that the navel area is painful to your baby
There may be a small amount of blood around the time the stump is about to fall off and after the cord falls off, but this should stop quickly. Never try to pull the cord off. Parents are often concerned about a baby's navel being an "innie" or an "outie." There is no way to predict this or make the navel look one way or another. Contrary to popular traditions, taping a coin or other flat object over the navel does not help.
It is common in some babies for there to be a small protrusion of the abdomen around the naval, especially when the baby cries. The protrusion is caused by a weakness in the abdominal muscles called an umbilical hernia. This can be checked by your baby's doctor to see if treatment is necessary; however, it usually goes away on its own.