5 Tips for Proper Umbilical Cord Care

Umbilical cord care helps prevent the newborn from developing infections. This is because, the freshly cut cord can easily provide an avenue for bacteria to accumulate, thus placing the baby at risk of sepsis and even death.

The umbilical cord connects the baby to its mother during pregnancy. The cord, which is also referred to as the birth cord, stretches from the placenta in the womb, all through to the baby’s stomach. It averages about 50 centimeters in length.

What is the function of the umbilical cord?

The umbilical cord delivers oxygen and nutrients to the growing baby. This is made possible because the cord consists of key blood vessels: two arteries and one vein. Unlike all other arteries, the umbilical artery carries de-oxygenated blood from the baby back to the placenta. In the same measure, the umbilical vein carries nutrients and oxygen-rich blood from the mother to the baby.

In addition to these functions, the umbilical cord also produces antibodies that are then transported to the baby. These antibodies, passed on from the mother, confer immunity for the first three months of the baby’s life. The umbilical cord therefore plays an essential role in ensuring that the unborn baby gets the nutrients that they need to grow well.

Read More: Here is what is happening as your pregnancy progresses

What happens to the umbilical cord after birth?

As outlined above, the umbilical cord is essential for the baby’s survival in-utero. After birth, however, this is not necessary. For this reason, the cord is cut as follows:

  • About two inches from the baby’s belly button, the doula/midwife will clamp the cord using a plastic clip.
  • Another clamp will be put in place close to the placenta.

NOTE: One of the things that new parents may worry about is whether clamping the cord is painful for the baby. The good news is that it is not. According to studies done, the umbilical cord does not have any nerves, and this means that neither the mother nor the baby will feel pain.

After clamping, a stump forms about two inches on the baby’s stomach. Once it heals, the stump will dry up before darkening and eventually falling off. This usually happens anywhere between 5 and 10 days after birth. Until this happens, it is important to keep the baby’s navel area clean to prevent infections from developing. This constitutes umbilical cord care, and is an integral part of the baby’s first days of life.

Umbilical cord care
Image showing a umbilical stump. Image credits

Umbilical cord care: practical tips to handle your newborn

1.      Ensure that the area around the stump remains clean

Keeping the area around the stump clean prevents bacterial infections. Wash your hands before cleaning the cord to prevent spreading germs to the baby’s stump. To clean it, place a clean washcloth in warm water and gently rub the skin to get rid of dirty and sticky matter. You may want to avoid using soap or alcohol-containing products as these may irritate the baby’s skin. Once done, take another soft cloth and carefully dab the area to ensure it is completely dry.

2.      Use a sponge bath

Use a sponge bath to help prevent infections around the stump. This is recommended because it helps control wetness around the stump and keeps the skin dry. When the stump eventually falls out, babies can then graduate to full body baths.

3.      Diaper the baby carefully

Part of proper umbilical cord care includes diapering the baby carefully to avoid irritating the skin. Make sure that you do not cover the stump with the top band of the diaper. Depending on the brand, some diapers are notched to accommodate the stump. Alternatively, fold the front part of the diaper to ensure it does not come into contact with the stump. Remember to change wet and soiled diapers as soon as possible. This is done to prevent urine and stool from leaking towards the baby’s navel area.

4.      Dress the baby in loose-fitting clothes

In addition to diapering carefully, it helps to dress the newborn in clothes that have a loose fit. This prevents the clothes from pressing too much against the stump. The other option is to get newborn clothes whose cut-out provides room for the stump to heal. In the end, you want to avoid friction between the baby’s clothes and their skin.

5.      Do not remove the stump

As tempting as it is, do not attempt to remove the stump on its own as it recovers. Let the stump fall on its own. Pulling it away, even when it seems loosely connected, could easily cause bleeding in the newborn.

Read More: Danger signs to watch out for in infants

What are some of the signs of infection in the umbilical cord?

Even with proper umbilical cord care, there are instances where the area will develop an infection. This is why it is important to keep an eye on the healing process. This is especially important for preemies and babies with low birth weight. Some of the signs of an infection around the umbilical cord area include:

  • Formation of pus particularly at the base of the stump. This is usually accompanied by a foul smell, and is one of the signs that the stump has an infection.
  • Redness or swelling around the stump.
  • Bleeding from the stump (while some little blood may form, bleeding that does not stop places the baby at risk).
  • Redness and tenderness at the base of the stump.
  • Baby’s crying on touching the stump of the cord or the skin around it.
  • Swelling of the abdominal area.
  • The formation of a fluid-filled lump close to or on the stump.
  • Body weakness, Fussiness and fever are also signs to watch out for.

What happens after the umbilical cord stump falls off?

Once the stump falls off, some babies might ooze out a small amount of fluid. Whilst this is nothing to worry about with proper umbilical cord care, if the discharge does not decrease and clear in a week, it is important that the baby gets professional medical attention. Most stumps will, however, dry and fall off on their own.

Lastly, seek a medical professional if the stump does not fall off by the third week. This could be indicative of an infection or a disorder that affects the baby’s immune system.

What challenges have you faced as a new parent? Our Tunza Mama caregivers are at hand to walk with you in this season of life with our postpartum care packages. Our postpartum Care Education package includes a guide to help you latch the baby well, deal with the newborn phase as well as mental health assessment of the mother after delivery. Would you like to schedule a session? Get in touch with us through our call center number 0709 256 200, or simply inbox us on our social media pages and we will get back to you.

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