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. Infants – especially newborns – are very delicate and require constant monitoring potentially causing new parents to lose sleep. If you are still breastfeeding then you're doing double duty. If you express on top of that, you have to worry about how long breast milk can last for. These issues are particularly challenging for first-time parents. Luckily, we’ve been down that road before. So, before you continue finishing up your nursery decorations, buying those awesome convertible cribs, 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.
The umbilical cord is the physical connection between you and your baby. Nutrients from the food and vitamin supplements you eat are transferred to your baby through placenta and then the umbilical cord. This life giving connection is also why you want to reduce physical and emotional stress during your pregnancy and birth. Stress reduces blood flow to your uterus which reduces the nutrients available to be transferred to your baby via the umbilical cord. Also, an increased cortisol level (stress hormone) in your blood stream can be transferred to your baby through the placenta and the umbilical cord.
After delivery and your baby is able to take their first breath on their own, the umbilical cord is severed and left as a stump, about an inch long, by your birth attendant. Usually, the stump will dry up and naturally fall off after a week or two. Seeing as how important a role the umbilical cord served during pregnancy, some parents even decide to save the stump as a keepsake! It is certainly considered to be one of your baby's many milestones that you get to witness, and it is something worth remembering. However, there are important things to be aware of after the umbilical cord stump falls off. 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 a delicate task and we at ParentsNeed HQ, are here to give you a few tips to help you through this process.
Caring for the Umbilical Stump
After delivery, your 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 and 24 hours after delivery, it can safely be removed. It is highly advisable that the clamp is removed at the hospital before you take your baby home for the first time to ensure that it is done the right way.
Once you get your baby home, it is best to leave the umbilical stump alone to allow it to heal faster. Make sure that the baby’s diaper is not in contact with the area of the stump; otherwise, the diaper can pull on the stump and possibly irritate and injure it. The same goes for strollers, slings or even carriers and car seats. Make sure the straps do not rub against the stump if you have to use them. It might be best to wait until the stump falls off before you start to swaddle your baby to avoid injuring the umbilical stump. However tempting it is to be that hot mama going on a run with the toddler in a double jogging stroller, it is another activity you should absolutely avoid at this time! You've been warned!
Change your baby’s diaper right away once it is wet or soiled. Dress your baby lightly, especially during hot days, and ensure adequate air circulation. 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 also onesies that have belly button holes in them for just this purpose.
Additionally, avoid bathing 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 area surrounding the stump with alcohol at least once a day or 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 develops a fever of 38 C or higher, it is considered an emergency. Here are some of the common medical conditions that require medical attention right away:
- Umbilical granuloma – This is basically some scar tissue forming as the belly button heals after the umbilical cord is cut. It looks like a small, pinkish nodule. This is usually accompanied by yellow-green drainage coming from the belly button. Normally there isn't any redness, tenderness, or swelling of the area around it. Your doctor can treat this using silver nitrate applied with a cotton swab. This treatment cauterizes the tissue resulting in it drying 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 but hese are nothing to worry about. Also, take note that the treatment is not painful for your baby.
- Omphalitis – This is another common condition and it 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 from the stump. This infection can be life-threatening and therefore requires you to go to the emergency room 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, or if it's oozing pus, it is a sign of a problem. 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 one to two weeks time. You will be left with what looks more or less like a normal belly button with a small wound. It, too, will heal naturally. At this stage, belly button cleaning is much easier. Here are a few tips to help you out.
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 should call 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 also signs 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 pediatrician 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.
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 to ensure maximum 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 stop after washing your hands 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 (non baby specific) or products that are designed for adults as these could contain ingredients that may be too strong for the baby and may cause irritation.
Some mothers also suggest dabbing peroxide with a q-tip on the wound left by the stump. Peroxide is a mild antiseptic and will keep the wound area free of germs. Belly button cleaning and care gets easier and easier. Always remember, don’t be afraid to ask your doctor if there is something you are unsure of.