You’ll need to keep the stump of the umbilical cord clean and dry as it shrivels and eventually falls off. To keep the cord dry, sponge bathe your baby rather than submersing him in a tub of water. Also keep the diaper folded below the cord to keep urine from soaking it. You may notice a few drops of blood on the diaper around the time the stump falls off; this is normal. But if the cord does actively bleed, call your baby’s doctor immediately. If the stump becomes infected, however, it will require medical treatment. Although an infection is quite uncommon, contact your doctor if any of these signs is present:
- Foul-smelling yellowish discharge from the cord
- Red skin around the base of the cord
- Crying when you touch the cord or the skin next to it
The umbilical cord stump should dry up and fall off by the time your baby is eight weeks old. If it remains beyond that time, there may be other issues at play. See the baby’s doctor if the cord has not dried up and fallen off by the time the baby is two months old.
Sometimes instead of completely drying, the cord will form a granuloma or a small reddened mass of scar tissue that stays on the belly button after the umbilical cord has fallen off. This granuloma will drain a light-yellowish fluid. This condition will usually go away in about a week, but if not, your pediatrician may need to burn off (cauterize) the granulamatous tissue.
If your baby’s umbilical cord area seems to push outward when he cries, he may have an umbilical hernia—a small hole in the muscular part of the abdominal wall that allows tissue to bulge out when there’s pressure inside the abdomen (e.g., when the baby cries). This is not a serious condition, and it usually heals by itself in the first twelve to eighteen months. (For unknown reasons it takes longer to heal in African American babies.) In the unlikely event that it doesn’t heal, the hole may need to be surgically closed. Taping this area or putting a “taped coin” over this area may be harmful.