We often hear from new parents who are concerned about bathing their baby before the umbilical stump has fallen off, and wondering how to care for it when baby is very tiny. So we’ve put together a really quick guide to help new parents who are worried about new baby bathtime. Read on to find out how to care for your baby’s umbilical stump.
What is the umbilical stump?
The umbilical cord is a tubular structure that is formed at around 5 weeks after conception. It’s made up of three blood vessels- two arteries and one vein. The vein works to carry oxygen and nutrients to your baby from the placenta, while the artery’s job is to take away baby’s waste material, which is then disposed of via your kidneys. The blood vessels are protected by a substance called Wharton’s Jelly.
After birth, the umbilical cord is cut and clamped and this then forms the umbilical stump. The stump at first may look shiny and yellow, but it will quickly start to dry out and can then turn brown or grey in colour. There are no nerves in the umbilical cord, so your baby doesn’t feel any pain when it’s cut and clamped.
Can I give my baby a bath before the umbilical stump falls off?
It’s important to care for your baby’s umbilical stump to prevent infection occurring, but there is no reason why you cannot give them a bath while it’s still healing and drying out. Getting your baby’s umbilical stump wet will not hinder the drying out process, but it is important to pat it dry gently afterwards, and allow the area to air dry as much as possible.
How long does the umbilical stump take to fall off?
In most cases, the umbilical stump will begin to change colour within around 5 days, turning brown and then almost black as it starts to dry out. Most babies will lose their umbilical stump at around 5-15 days old.
Does it hurt when the umbilical stump falls off?
As there are no nerves in the umbilical stump, the natural process of drying out does not hurt and your baby won’t feel it when it does eventually fall off.
How do I take care of the umbilical stump before it falls off?
Generally speaking, your baby’s umbilical stump doesn’t require a lot of special treatment, but there are some guidelines to follow in order to keep the area clean and free from infection. You should try to avoid touching the umbilical stump, and never try to remove it yourself. It will fall off eventually.
Top & tail washes
Lots of parents prefer to postpone the first bath until the umbilical stump falls off. That’s fine to do- top & tail washes are a good alternative.
Use plain water at bathtime
If you do give your baby a bath before the umbilical stump falls off, make sure to use plain water only- no bubble bath or perfumed soaps.
Allow the umbilical stump to dry before dressing
Your baby’s umbilicals stump will need to dry properly after washing, before you dress your baby. Some parents like to fold down the top of baby’s nappy so that the area I can finish drying off if they prefer not to go nappy-free.
Taking care when changing nappies
When you change baby’s nappy, take care not to pull on the umbilical stump, and be careful when fastening the nappy too. Don’t use any creams on the area.
Maintaining good hand hygiene
Always wash your hands properly before touching the umbilical stump or the skin around it.
How do I take care of the area when the umbilical stump falls off?
When your baby’s umbilical stump falls off, you should continue to take care to keep the area clean and maintain good hand hygiene whenever you touch your baby or give them a wash. Your baby now has a belly button! The area might look a little red for a short while, but this is normal and no cause for concern. Use a soft cloth and warm water to clean away any secretions that might appear (again, this is normal) and always treat the area gently and with care.
Can I use baby bubble bath and soap?
When your baby is a little older, mild and umperfemd bubble bath is ok to use- but the general advice is to wait until they’re at least 4 weeks old.
Signs of an infection
Most umbilical stumps heal well and without any issues, but sometimes an infection can occur- so its important to know the signs. Look out for:
- Swelling and redness in the belly button area
- Swelling, oozing and/ or strong odour around the areas
Call your midwife or doctor for advice if you suspect an infection.