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  • Umbilical Cord Symptoms

    Definition

    • Common questions about the umbilical cord or navel in newborns
    • The navel is also called the belly button or umbilicus

    Symptoms:

    • Umbilicus (navel) has a cloudy discharge or even some dried pus on the surface
    • Bleeding occurs from cord’s point of separation
    • Separation of cord is delayed past 3 weeks

    Omphalitis: Serious Complication

    • Definition. Bacterial infection of the umbilical stump with spread to the skin around it. It’s a medical emergency.
    • How Often. 1 out of 200 newborns.
    • Symptoms. Redness spreads around the navel. The area may be tender, swollen and have a foul odor.

    Umbilical Granuloma: Minor Complication

    • Definition. Small round growth in center of navel after the cord falls off. It’s red and can be on a stalk. Covered with clear mucus. Not dry like normal skin.
    • How Often. 1 out of 500 newborns.
    • Outcome. Usually grows in size if not treated. Can become an entry point for umbilical infections.
    • Treatment. Easily treated in the doctor’s office by putting on a chemical called silver nitrate.

    When to Call Us for Umbilical Cord Symptoms

    Call Us Now (night or day) If:

    • Age under 1 month old and looks or acts abnormal in any way
    • Bleeding won’t stop after 10 minutes of direct pressure applied twice
    • Spot of blood more than 2 inches (5 cm) across
    • Red streak runs from the navel
    • Red skin spreads from around the navel
    • Age under 12 weeks old with fever. (Caution: Do NOT give your baby any fever medicine before being seen.)
    • You think your child needs to be seen urgently

    Call Us Within 24 Hours (between 9 am and 4 pm) If:

    • You think your child needs to be seen, but not urgently
    • Small bleeding lasts more than 3 days
    • Pimples, blisters or sores near navel
    • Lots of drainage (such as urine, mucus, pus) from the navel

    Call Us During Weekday Office Hours If:

    • You have other questions or concerns
    • After using care advice for 3 days, navel is not dry and clean
    • Small piece of red tissue inside the navel
    • Cord stays attached more than 6 weeks

    Parent Care at Home If:

    • Normal cord care
    • Normal navel care after cord falls off
    • Minor infection of cord or navel
    • Normal bleeding from cord or navel
    • Normal delayed separation of the cord after 3 weeks

    Care Advice for Umbilical Cord Symptoms

    What You Should Know:

    • Normal cords don’t need any special treatment.
    • Just keep them dry (called dry cord care or natural drying).
    • Reason: Cords need to dry up, before they will fall off.
    • As they dry up, cords normally change color. They go from a shiny yellowish hue, to brown or gray.
    • The cord will normally fall off between 1 and 3 weeks.
    • Here is some care advice that should help.

    Normal Dry Cord Care:

    • Clean the skin around the base of the cord. Do it once a day.
    • Use a wet cotton swab or cloth. Clean away any dried secretions. Then dry carefully.
    • You will need to push down on the skin around the cord to get at this area. You may also need to bend the cord a little to get underneath it.
    • Caution: Don’t put alcohol or other germ killer on the cord. Reason: Dry cords fall off sooner. (Exception: instructed by your doctor to use alcohol).

    Bathing:

    • Keep the cord dry. Avoid tub baths.
    • Use sponge baths until the cord falls off.

    Diapers:

    • Keep the area dry to help healing.
    • To provide air contact, keep the diaper folded down below the cord.
    • Another option for disposable diapers is to cut off a wedge with a scissors. Then seal the edge with tape.

    Poop on Cord:

    • Getting some poop on the cord or navel is not serious.
    • If it occurs, clean the area with soap and water.
    • This should prevent any infections.

    Call Your Doctor If:

    • Develops a red streak or redness around belly button
    • Fever occurs
    • Your baby starts to look or act abnormal

    Treatment for Normal Navel After Cord Falls Off

    What You Should Know:

    • The cord can’t fall off too early.
    • The average cord falls off between 10 and 14 days. Normal range is 7 to 21 days. Even if it falls off before 7 days, you can follow this advice.
    • After the cord has fallen off, the navel will gradually heal.
    • It’s normal for the center to look red at the point of separation.
    • It’s not normal if the redness spreads on to the belly.
    • It’s normal for the navel to ooze some secretions.
    • Sometimes the navel forms a scab. Let it heal up and fall off on its own.
    • The navel has a small risk of becoming infected.
    • Here is some care advice that should help.

    Normal Naval Care:

    • Keep the navel (belly button) clean and dry.
    • Clean the area once per day with warm water and a clean cloth.
    • Remove any dried or sticky secretions.
    • Caution: Don’t use any rubbing alcohol. Reason: can interfere with healing.

    Bathing:

    • After the cord falls off, continue sponge baths for a few more days.
    • Help the belly button area dry up.
    • Then, tub baths will be fine.

    Diapers

    • Keep the navel dry to help healing.
    • To provide air contact, keep the diaper folded down below the navel.

    Keep the navel dry to help healing. To provide air contact, keep the diaper folded down below the navel.

    • Develops a red streak or redness around belly button
    • Fever occurs
    • Cloudy discharge occurs
    • Your baby starts to look or act abnormal

    • Have your child sit on the toilet and try to pass a stool.
    • This may help if the pain is from constipation or diarrhea.
    • Note: For constipation, moving a warm wet cotton ball on the anus may help.

    Do Not Give Medicines:

    • Any drug (like ibuprofen) could upset the stomach and make the pain worse.
    • Do not give any pain medicines or laxatives for stomach cramps.
    • For fever over 102° F (39° C), acetaminophen (Tylenol) can be given.

    Treatment for Minor Infection of Cord or Navel

    What You Should Know:

    • The belly button will ooze secretions for several days.
    • Normal secretions are clear or blood tinged mucus.
    • A cloudy discharge is usually a mild infection.
    • This can be from normal skin bacteria.
    • A small amount of pus may be present.
    • Here is some care advice that should help.

    Clean the Navel:

    • Clean the navel (belly button) 2 times a day.
    • Use a wet cotton swab or cloth.
    • Clean away any dried secretions or pus.
    • Do this gently to prevent any bleeding.
    • Caution: Don’t use any rubbing alcohol. Reason: Can interfere with healing.

    Antibiotic Ointment:

    • If any pus is present, use an antibiotic ointment such as Polysporin.
    • No prescription is needed.
    • Put a thin layer on the navel.
    • Do this 2 times per day after the area has been cleaned.
    • Do this for 2 days. After that, use the antibiotic ointment only if you see more pus.

    Bathing

    • Do not use tub baths until the cord falls off. The navel should be well healed.

    Diapers:

    • With treatment, the cloudy discharge and pus should be gone in 2 to 3 days.
    • The navel should become dry and healed by 7 days.

    Call the Doctor If:

    • Develops a red streak or redness around the belly button
    • Fever occurs
    • Cloudy discharge not gone after 3 days of using this care advice
    • Your baby starts to look or act abnormal

    Treatment for Normal Bleeding Around Cord

    What You Should Know:

    • A few drops of blood are normal when the cord falls off or catches on something. The diaper rubbing against the belly button may make it start up again. Here is some care advice that should help..

    Bleeding:

    • The bleeding may come back a few times.
    • It should only be a small smear of blood.
    • The bleeding site should heal up by 2 days.

    Call Your Doctor If:

    • Bleeding gets worse
    • Few drops of blood lasts more than 3 days
    • Your baby starts to look or act abnormal

    Treatment for Normal Delayed Separation of the Cord Beyond 3 Weeks

    • Most cords fall off between 10 and 14 days. Normal range is 7 to 21 days.
    • All cords slowly fall off on their own.
    • Continue to be patient.
    • Here is some care advice that should help.

    Stop Alcohol:

    • If you have been using rubbing alcohol to the cord, stop doing so.
    • Rubbing alcohol can kill the good bacteria that help the cord fall off.

    Stop Alcohol:

    • Help the cord dry up faster by keeping the diaper folded below it.
    • Another approach is to cut out a wedge of the diaper (if disposable) .
    • Air contact helps the cord stay dry.

    Stop Alcohol:

    • Cord starts to look infected
    • Fever occurs
    • Cord is still on for more than 6 weeks
    • Your baby starts to look sick or act abnormal

    Disclaimer: This information is not intended be a substitute for professional medical advice. It is provided for educational purposes only. You assume full responsibility for how you choose to use this information.

    Author and Senior Reviewer: Barton D. Schmitt, M.D.
    Copyright 1994-2013 Barton D. Schmitt, M.D.

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