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How to Clean Babies’ Belly Button after Umbilical Cord Falls Off

April 25, 2017
How to Clean Babies' Belly Button after Umbilical Cord Falls Off

A Guide on Newborn Belly Button Cleaning

Caring for babies can sometimes be very demanding and you always have to be careful when handling them. This is why parents are often sleep-deprived because infants – especially newborns – are much too delicate and require constant monitoring. This is particularly challenging for first-time parents. We’ve been down that road before. So, before you continue finishing up your nursery decorations, buying those awesome convertible cribs or decorative bassinets that rock or even cute little moses baskets, let’s talk about something more pressing and important: the umbilical cord care and how to clean baby’s belly button.

Your baby’s umbilical cord served a very important role during the pregnancy stage. It is responsible for transferring the nutrients from the food and vitamins that the mothers take to their babies. After delivery, your baby is left with a tiny stump that’s about an inch long. Usually, the stump will dry up and naturally fall off after a week or two. Some parents even decide to save the stump as a keepsake. It certainly is considered as one of the many baby milestones that you get to witness, and something worth remembering. When this happens, your baby’s belly button will require a bit of attention to avoid unnecessary infection and irritation. Newborn belly button healing and cleaning can be delicate and we, here at ParentsNeed HQ, are here to give you a few tips and bits of information to help you in this process.

Caring for the Umbilical Stump

After your delivery, the baby is left with the umbilical stump. Usually, it is directly treated with antiseptic to minimize the chances of infection. It is also clamped securely but this clamp can be safely removed after 24 hours from delivery. It is highly advisable that the clamp is removed at the hospital before you take your baby home for the first time. Of course, we would want to be sure that it is done the right way.

Once you get your baby home, it would be best for the umbilical stump to be left alone. This helps it heal much faster. To do this, make sure that the baby’s diaper is not touching the area of the stump; otherwise, the diaper can pull on the stump and possibly injure it. The same goes for strollers, slings or even carriers and car seats. Make sure the straps are not rubbing against the stump if using these things is unavoidable. It might be best to wait until the stump falls off before you start to swaddle your baby to prevent injuring the umbilical stump.

Change your baby’s diaper right away once it is wet or soiled. Dress your baby lightly, especially during hot days, to make air circulation better. As for clothing options, leave some breathing room for the stump. Kimono-style shirts work best to let a bit of air in. There are, however, onesies that have belly button holes in them.

Additionally, you can’t bathe your baby in a tub or sink just yet. Getting water onto the stump can be very harmful, so it’s best to give your baby a sponge bath. Your doctor will also advise you to wipe the stump and the area surrounding it with alcohol at least once a day and as necessary whenever you change your baby’s diaper. Do not attempt to clean baby’s belly button by directly touching it just yet.

Red Flags: When to get medical attention

Since the umbilical stump is very sensitive and delicate, there are a few warning signs that you need to be mindful of. For instance, if your baby is running a fever of 38 C or higher, it is already considered as an emergency. Here are some of the common medical conditions that require you to go see a doctor right away:

  • Umbilical granuloma – This is usually characterized by yellow-green drainage coming from the belly button that doesn’t show any redness, tenderness, or swelling of the area around it. It looks like a small, pinkish nodule. Your doctor can treat this using silver nitrate applied with a cotton swab. This substance can cauterize and cause the tissue at the base of the stump to dry up to let normal skin to grow. This treatment may have to be repeated depending on the rate at which it heals. Afterward, you might see a bit of dark-colored discharge from the stump or temporary staining on the skin and these are nothing to worry about. Also, the treatment that they use is not painful for the baby.
  • Omphalitis – This is another common condition that presents itself as redness, swelling, tenderness, and warmth in the skin surrounding the belly button. In omphalitis of newborn babies, there may also be a lot of foul smelling discharge coming out of the stump. This infection can be life-threatening and therefore requires you to go to the emergency room of the nearest hospital right away.
  • Persistent bleeding – A little bit of dried blood in the stump is normal since technically, it is an open wound; however, if you notice a significant amount of bleeding from it, it may potentially be caused by clotting. Newborn umbilical cord bleeding can be a serious condition that requires medical attention.

After caring for the umbilical stump, it will usually fall off on its own in around two weeks’ time. You will be left with what not looks more like a normal belly button with a little bit of wounding. It, too, will heal naturally. Belly button cleaning is now much easier. Here are a few tips to help you out. We, parents, look out for each other, after all, right?

Tip #1: Inspect the Area Carefully

Usually, after the umbilical cord falls off, the belly button will look almost like a small open wound . As mentioned previously, newborn belly button healing occurs naturally. Still, you would want to look out for immediate signs of infection in your baby’s belly button. This is much less likely to happen than when the stump was still attached.

• Check the smell – It is normal for the belly button to smell a little, as it is still in the process of healing, like normal wounds. In some cases, the belly button can give out a foul odor or produce pus. This could be a sign of newborn belly button infection and must be treated appropriately. If this happens, call your baby’s doctor for further instructions.

• Look out for other signs of infection – Newborn belly button infection can present itself in several ways. If you see any redness and/or swelling that doesn't go away after a day, then it could be infected. Also, see if there are any lumps filled with fluid on or near your baby’s belly button. Like any other small wound, there is bound to be a little bit of dried blood in the area of the baby’s belly button. This is completely normal. Anything more than that and you’re better off calling your doctor right away. Same goes for abdominal swelling. Aside from the outer manifestations of infection, if your baby’s lethargic and irritable, or if he or she has a sudden low appetite; and if the baby is running a fever, then contact your doctor immediately as these are symptoms of infection.

It’s also possible for your baby to develop umbilical hernia after the stump falls off. Newborn belly button hernia is a bulge that contains abdominal tissue, fluid, or fat. Most of the time, it can heal on its own, but at times it may require surgery for removal. Contact your baby’s doctor for more information.

Tip #2: Make Sure the Belly Button Area is Always Dry and Clean

Once you’re done checking for signs of infection and everything is clear, it’s best to remember to keep the belly button and the area surrounding it clean and dry. After the stump falls off, newborn belly button infection is less common. Still, dirt can easily accumulate in this particular area of the body if left unchecked. Be sure to pay attention to the area surrounding your baby’s belly button. The stump had just fallen off so most likely, it almost looks a bit similar to a small, open wound.

Tip #3: Clean Baby’s Belly Button Regularly

Okay, we’ve told you the “why” of keeping the belly button clean, now let’s proceed to the “how” – that is, how to clean baby’s belly button after the cord falls off. This particular process requires a few careful steps that you need to follow for safety, so pay close attention, parents!

• Prepare everything – Do not leave your babies on top of a changing table or near water unattended. Make sure you gather all there is to use before prepping the baby for a bath. Before the umbilical cord stump fell off, the baby could only take sponge baths to avoid getting the stump wet. Now, the baby’s ready for a regular bath. For first time parents, bath time can be quite tricky. here’s a list of what you need:

  • Washcloth – Make sure it’s soft so as to avoid irritating the baby’s skin.
  • Baby soap/shampoo – Use the mild formula for both.
  • Towel – Again, make sure the strands are soft enough to prevent scratching the baby’s sensitive skin.
  • Shallow sink or Baby tub – Fill it with 2 to 3 inches of warm water. Always have one hand free to hold the baby, particularly the head.

• Wash your hands – Since you will be inspecting your baby’s belly button, washing your hands thoroughly is a necessary step. Yes, the belly button is no longer as delicate as it was when the stump was still attached to it, so this is more of a precaution, but a very important one nonetheless. This helps to prevent the spread of germs and dirt in your baby’s navel. Don’t just wash your hands but make sure to cover your forearms, too!

• Use a washcloth to clean the belly area – Clean your baby’s belly button gently, wiping the washcloth in and around it. Thoroughly rinse the area to make sure that soap doesn't build up in the navel.

• Wipe the belly button dry – After the bath, use the soft towel to wipe your baby’s body dry, including the belly button. Remember to gently pat the towel on different parts of your baby’s body. If your baby has an ‘innie’, make sure to wipe the inside, too. You may also use lotion designed for babies if you want to keep your baby’s skin moisturized. Always check the products before using them on your baby. Do not use regular ones or products that are designed for adults as these could contain ingredients that may be too strong for the baby and may cause irritation.

There are several more tips from other mothers out there such as dabbing peroxide on the wound left by the stump. Like we’ve mentioned, belly button cleaning gets easier over time. Don’t be afraid to ask your doctor if there is something you are unsure of.

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