Care of the baby’s umbilical cord stump

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It is important to keep the base of the stump clean and dry to prevent infection. Most hospitals still recommend the use of alcohol swabs for cleaning. The use of antiseptic powder is not recommended now as it may delay the stump from falling off.

Do remember: it is the base not the stump that must be kept clean!

Clean the base of the umbilical cord with alcohol swab
Clean the base of the umbilical cord with alcohol swab
  1. Gently hold the tip of the stump and wipe around the base with the alcohol swab.
  2. Let it air for a few minutes before putting on the diaper. Keep the diaper folded below the cord to prevent urine from soaking it.
  3. Never pull off the stump even if it looks like it is hanging by a thread. Just snip the thread with a pair of scissors.
  4. When the stump falls off, there may be slight bleeding which is normal.
  5. Most western practices recommends sponge bathing only until the stump falls off. Actually it is alright to bath baby in the tub provided you dry the base and stump properly with a tissue and then clean it with the alcohol swab.
  6. If you have a baby boy, point his penis downwards when putting on the diaper, so that he does not pee onto the stump.
  7. Infected umbilical cord
    Infected umbilical cord

    If you notice pus around the base, a foul smell, red skin around the base or baby cries when you touch the cord, please take baby to the doctor as these are signs of infection.

Sometimes after the stump falls off, bits of lumpy flesh remain. This is called “umbilical granuloma” which will often disappear by itself. Occasionally, it may require treatment by the baby’s doctor.

Some communities recommend applying things such as incense ashes, oil, cow dung etc on the stump. It is dangerous to do this as it can only lead to infection, the most serious being tetanus.

You may be advised to put an abdominal binder on the umbilicus to prevent wind getting into the stomach. There is no connection between the umbilicus and the stomach therefore this cannot happen. The benefit of the abdominal binder is that it keeps the tummy warm so the baby is comfortable and does not cry so much.

What to do with the stump?

Most people will tell you “throw it away”. Some of us, for sentimental reasons may want to keep it in a little clear plastic bag and put it in the baby’s album, together with the first lock of hair, tooth and so on.

In some parts of Malaysia, it is the custom among the Malays to keep the umbilical cord of all the children and when the parents do not want to have any more children, the cord stumps are boiled and the water given to the children to drink to foster closer sibling relationship.

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