How to Care for a Newborn Baby's Belly Button

19 August, 2020
The best way to care for a newborn baby's belly button is not to intervene in this natural process. You simply need to follow a few basic hygiene measures and keep the area dry.

How to care for a newborn baby’s belly button is a common cause for concern, especially among first-time parents. However, there’s no need to worry. All you need to do is apply certain basic care so that the leftover piece of umbilical cord detaches and heals without any problems.

When a baby is still inside the uterus, it receives all of the nutrition it needs from the umbilical cord. Once it’s born, the doctor cuts the umbilical cord, as it no longer has any purpose. A small stump of the cord remains attached to the baby’s body. This stump slowly dries until it falls off, leaving behind the scar we know as the belly button.

Caring for a newborn baby’s belly button involves preventing any sort of infection. All you need to do is practice proper hygiene and take simple preventative measures to keep this from happening. With the right measures, in just two or three weeks, the stump will detach naturally.

A newborn baby’s belly button

At the time a baby is born, a doctor or nurse will cut the umbilical cord about 4 centimeters from the baby’s abdomen. They do so using homeostatic clamps, whose function is to control the bleeding. They hold the rest of the cord with special plastic clamps.

From this time on, the newborn baby’s belly button begins a process of self-destruction. As the days go by, the stump will dry out, shrivel up, take on a brownish color, and finally fall off. All of this takes place over between 8 and 10 days, on average.  In babies that are born by C-section, this process may take a few days longer.

Once the stump falls off, it leaves behind a wound that takes between three and five more days to heal. During this lapse of time, parents need to apply special care to continue the prevention of infection or other complications. Once the wound finally heals, there’s no longer any need to worry.

An umbilical cord clamp.

Keep reading: Gastroschisis in Newborns: A Dangerous Birth Defect

Caring for a newborn baby’s belly button

Caring for a newborn baby’s belly button culminates when the area as healed correctly. There are many myths, believes, half-truths when it comes to this process. In the past, experts recommended cleaning the area with 70% alcohol, either alone or in conjunction with some antiseptic, such as chlorhexidine.

However, different studies have demonstrated that this can delay the detachment of the belly button stump. Therefore, it’s only necessary when babies live in areas with little hygiene. Otherwise, the only golden rule is for parents to keep the belly button clean and dry.

This involves several basic actions, such as the following:

  • Parents and caretakers should wash their hands before bathing a newborn or changing their diaper.
  • Don’t remove or tug on the belly button stub. It will fall off on its own then the time comes.
  • You can bathe your baby without needing to worry. However, you must be sure to dry the area gently and thoroughly after bathtime.
  • If the area of the belly button becomes dirty with urine or feces, you should wash it with a towel and lukewarm water.
  • The area of a newborn baby’s belly button should remain uncovered. This means keeping clothing and diapers from covering it.

How to clean a newborn baby’s belly button

Experts recommend that parents clean their newborn baby’s belly button until it heals completely. This procedure is simple and should take place after the baby’s bath.

Just follow the steps below:

  1. After your child’s bath, dry his or her entire body gently.
  2. Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water.
  3. Wet a sterile gauze with a mixture of warm water and neutral soap, or with alcohol if the environment isn’t hygienic.
  4. Clean the entire surface of the belly button and the surrounding area.
  5. Use a fresh clean gauze to dry the area well.
  6. Don’t use cotton or mercurochrome or iodine-based products.
A doctor cutting the umbilical cord, which will later be the baby's belly button
The doctor or labor and delivery nurse will cut the umbilical cord after the baby is born using antiseptic measures.

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What you should look out for

If, after 20 days, the wound has yet to heal, there may be an infection called omphalitis. In these cases, the area usually becomes red and hardened. At the same time, there will be discharge or bloody and smelly secretion.

When the stump falls off, it’s normal for there to be mild bleeding. However, if bleeding is heavy or doesn’t stop, then you should apply pressure to the area with sterile gauze and check with a doctor.

Sometimes in the scar of the belly button, a red spot may appear known as an umbilical granuloma. It’s nothing serious but deserves a consult with your pediatrician.

Sometimes, a bulge may appear in the belly button, which is the indication of a hernia. This is nothing serious and tends to disappear around the age of 2 or 3. At the same time, a small protuberance in the shape of an elephant’s trump may remain, known commonly as an outie belly button.

No matter what, your pediatrician will tell you what steps you should take to ensure your baby is healthy and happy.

Gutiérrez, D., & ª José, M. (2016). Cuidados del cordón umbilical en el recién nacido: revisión de la evidencia científica. Ars Pharmaceutica (Internet), 57(1), 5-10.