The umbilical cord is the baby's lifeline to the mother during pregnancy. However, it is no longer needed once the baby is born. Within a few minutes after birth, the cord is clamped and cut close to the navel. The clamp helps stop bleeding from the blood vessels in the umbilical cord. A medicine is sometimes applied to the cord as part of a baby's first care. This may be a purple dye or another type of antiseptic. However, this practice has been replaced by dry cord care in most U.S. hospitals.
By the time the baby goes home from the hospital, the cord is beginning to dry and wither. The clamp can be removed when the cord is completely dry. The cord usually falls off by itself in about 2 to 3 weeks. In some babies, it takes longer. Because the umbilical cord may be a place for infection to enter the baby's body, it is important to care for it properly.
Your baby's healthcare provider will give you instructions on how to care for your baby's umbilical cord. You should:
Keep it dry
Expose it to air
Give baby sponge baths (keeping the cord dry) until it falls off
Let your healthcare provider know if it has not fallen off by 1 or 2 months of age
Fold the baby's diaper down so the cord is not covered. Some diapers have special cut-outs for the cord area. Call your baby's healthcare provider if there is:
Bleeding from the end of the cord or the area near the skin
Moisture of the cord, an unusual odor, and/or discharge from it
Swelling or redness of the skin around the navel
Signs that the navel area is painful to your baby
There may be a small amount of blood when the cord falls off. Don't try to remove the cord. It will fall off on its own.
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