Umbilical Cord Cutting and Care for Newborns

Cutting the Cord

Cutting the umbilical cord at birth.
Photo © Moment Open/Getty Images

No matter how your baby was born, there is an umbilical cord. This is the cord that runs between the placenta and your baby. With newborns, the first step in umbilical cord care will be the cutting of the cord. The umbilical cord will be cut at some point after the birth of your baby. The cord can usually be cut by you, the father of the baby, or someone else close to you. If you have a cesarean section or choose not to cut the cord this will be done by your doctor or midwife. You may also be interested in delayed cord clamping, as it is healthier for your baby. If this is something that you are interested in, you will need to address this in your birth plan.

Cord Clamping

The umbilical cord will be clamped before it is cut with something to help seal off the open blood vessels in the cord. This is usually a plastic umbilical cord clamp. Though it can also be a metal cord clamp or even cord tape. What is used depends largely on your practitioner.

After the cord has been clamped and cut, it may also be treated. The treatment is usually in the form of a dye. This dye is used to help protect the cord from infection, though it is not a mandatory procedure and varies largely by where you are when you give birth and who is caring for you.

Photo © Robin Elise Weiss

Preparing to Clean the Umbilical Cord

The umbilical cord should be cleaned with either hydrogen peroxide or alcohol. Which you use will be determined by your practitioner's preference or what you have handy. Some doctor's and midwives say to start with alcohol and only go to hydrogen peroxide if you need something more drying.

The first step in actual umbilical cord care is to gather up your supplies. You will need either cotton swabs or cotton balls and a solution like hydrogen peroxide or alcohol. It's also handy to have the baby with you. Most parents choose to do cord care during diaper changes.

Undress your baby, exposing the cord area. Remember these solutions can stain your baby's clothing. You will dip the cotton swab or cotton ball into the solution to wet it thoroughly.

Photo © Robin Elise Weiss

Cleaning the Cord with a Cotton Swab

A cotton swab is usually the easiest way to clean the umbilical cord. This is because the cotton swab can reach further into the belly button than a cotton ball can. When you're cleaning the umbilical cord hold the cotton swab in one hand and with your other hand either press down on the sides of the umbilical cord stump or excess skin. This allows greater access to the inside of the cord, where it will stay "wet" longer.

You should call your baby's doctor or pediatrician if there is a foul odor coming from the area of the umbilical cord, if there is redness ​around the cord or if your baby is running a fever.

Photo © Robin Elise Weiss

Cleaning the Cord with a Cotton Ball

A cotton ball is a nice way to clean the cord too. The benefits of the cotton ball are that it holds more of your cleaning solution. If you're unsure of which to use, you can always use both. You can either switch off at each cleaning or use both each time.

The cotton ball is handy if you're leery of cleaning deeply because you can drip lots of the cleaning solution into the area of the umbilical cord.

Photo © Robin Elise Weiss

The End Result of Cleaning

The dirt that you'll get from the cord area when cleaning, particularly with a cotton swab, can be worrisome. Do not panic. It is normal to have discoloration of the cotton swab or cotton ball. This photo shows you a normal cotton swab after cleaning.

Photo © Robin Elise Weiss

Umbilical Cord's Get Clothes Dirty Too

Even when the umbilical cord is healing well, it will still be weepy and leave marks on the clothing of your new baby. This photo is of the outfit of a baby who is a week old. Notice that there is residue from the cord on her outfit. The good news is that normal washing will remove this residue.

Photo © Robin Elise Weiss

Before the Umbilical Cord Falls Off

Just before the umbilical cord falls off, you'll notice it is very dry. It will actually begin to shrivel nearly immediately. Every day it will get smaller and pull away from the center of the soon-to-be belly button. Do not pull it off. One diaper change you'll simply notice it's missing or in the diaper.

Photo © Robin Elise Weiss

The Umbilical Cord Stump

The cord stump is what will be left once the cord has fallen off. It looks like a larger scab. You can simply throw it away. Though some parents choose to save it. Totally your choice. The above picture is what you can expect to find.

Photo © Robin Elise Weiss

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