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Understanding the Newborn Umbilical Cord: A Simple Guide for Parents

Welcoming a newborn into your family is a happy and exciting time. One of the first things new parents learn about is the umbilical cord. This guide will help you understand the umbilical cord, how to care for it, and answer common questions. We want to ensure you feel confident about caring for your baby's umbilical cord.
Olivia Quilty
By Olivia Quilty, NCS
Updated Jul 11, 2024 | 6 Minute Read

In This Article

What is the Newborn Umbilical Cord?

The umbilical cord is a unique tube that connects your baby to the placenta inside the mother’s womb. It gives your baby food and oxygen while removing waste.

The umbilical cord has three parts: two arteries and one vein. These parts help carry blood back and forth between the baby and the mother.

When your baby is born, the doctor will cut the umbilical cord, leaving a small piece called the stump. This stump will fall off in one to three weeks, leaving your baby with a belly button.

Why It’s Important

The umbilical cord is essential because it helps your baby get all the nutrients and oxygen needed to grow and develop inside the womb. It also helps remove waste products from your baby’s blood.

Development of the Umbilical Cord

The umbilical cord starts to form around the fifth week of pregnancy. It grows with your baby and reaches its entire length by birth, usually about 20 inches long. The cord is covered in a jelly-like substance called Wharton’s jelly, which protects the blood vessels inside.

Functions of the Umbilical Cord

Nutrient Transport
Carries essential nutrients from the mother to the baby.

Oxygen Supply
Delivers oxygenated blood to the baby.

Waste Removal
Takes away waste products from the baby’s blood.

The Wharton’s jelly helps cushion and protect the blood vessels inside the cord.

For more information, visit KidsHealth.

Caring for the Umbilical Cord

Taking care of the umbilical cord stump is essential to keep it clean and healthy. Here are some easy steps to follow:

Keep it Clean and Dry
Gently clean around the stump with a damp cloth and let it air dry. Do not use alcohol or other cleaning products unless your doctor says so.

Fold Diapers Away
Fold diapers down and away from the stump to keep it dry and avoid irritation.

Avoid Submerging in Water
Give your baby sponge baths until the stump falls off.

Watch for Signs of Infection
Check for redness, swelling, or bad smell. If you notice any of these signs, call your doctor.

What to Expect

As the umbilical cord stump heals, you may notice it changing color from yellowish-green to brown or black, which is normal. It may also look a bit crusty or dry. These are all signs that the stump is healing and ready to fall off.

Parent cleaning baby's umbilical cord stump |

Detailed Steps for Umbilical Cord Care

Initial Cleaning
After the cord is cut and clamped, gently clean the area around the stump with a sterile gauze pad and water.

Daily Care
Clean the stump daily with water and dry it thoroughly. Avoid using alcohol wipes unless recommended by your healthcare provider.

Dress your baby in loose-fitting clothes to avoid friction against the cord stump.

Check the stump regularly for any changes. A little bit of dried blood or yellowish crust at the stump’s base is standard as it heals.

Dos and Don’ts


  • Do keep the stump clean and dry.
  • Do give your baby sponge baths.
  • Do fold the diaper away from the stump.


  • Don’t pull on the stump, even if it looks like it’s about to fall off.
  • Don’t use alcohol to clean the stump unless your doctor advises it.
  • Don’t cover the stump with tight clothing or diapers.

Common Issues and Solutions

A slight odor is typical, but a strong, foul smell can indicate infection. If you notice this, call your doctor.

A little bleeding is common when the stump is about to fall off. If the bleeding is heavy or doesn’t stop, contact your doctor.

Redness and Swelling
These can be signs of infection. Monitor the area and call your doctor if you notice these symptoms.

For more tips on caring for the umbilical cord, check out the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Who Can Help with Umbilical Cord Care?


Pediatricians play a crucial role in umbilical cord care. They can advise you on how to care for the stump, what to watch out for, and when to seek help. Regular check-ups with your pediatrician will ensure that the stump is healing correctly.

Newborn Care Professionals

Newborn Care Specialists and Night Nannies (often hired through a newborn care agency) are trained to help care for your baby, including the umbilical cord.

They know how to:

Prevent Infections
Keep everything clean and spot signs of infection early.

Clean Properly
Use the best methods to clean and care for the umbilical cord stump.

Handle Emergencies
Know what to do if something goes wrong with the umbilical cord.

These professionals often have special training and certifications to ensure they can best care for your baby.

Happy family with a newborn baby |

Common Questions about the Newborn Umbilical Cord

How long does the umbilical cord stump take to fall off?
The stump usually falls off within one to three weeks after birth.

What should I do if the stump bleeds?
A small amount of bleeding is average. If it keeps bleeding or looks infected, call your doctor.

Can I use alcohol to clean the stump?
Most doctors now recommend using plain water. Check with your doctor for their advice.

What if the stump doesn’t fall off within three weeks?
If the stump has stayed on for three weeks, contact your doctor to check for any issues.

Extra Tips

Dressing Your Baby
Dress your baby in loose-fitting clothes to avoid rubbing against the stump.

Keep It Simple
The simpler you keep your cleaning routine, the better. Plain water is often all you need.

For more common questions, visit Mayo Clinic.

Healthy Cord, Happy Baby

Caring for your newborn’s umbilical cord is a simple but essential task. Following these guidelines can help keep your baby healthy and happy.

Remember, it’s always best to ask your doctor for any concerns. Proper umbilical cord care ensures your newborn’s well-being during the first few weeks.

By providing detailed and accurate information about umbilical cord care, this guide aims to equip parents with the knowledge they need to care for their newborns effectively. Always remember that seeking professional advice and support can make a big difference in your confidence and your baby’s health.

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