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Ask Dr. Sears: Belly-Button Care

Q.How long will my newborn have his umbilical-cord stump, and how should I care for it?

A. Expect your newborn's umbilical cord to begin to shrivel up like a raisin within a week of birth and fall off one to five weeks after that. To help speed up the healing process and prevent infection:

  • Clean around the cord's base with a cotton swab dipped in rubbing alcohol three times daily until a few days after the stump has fallen off.

  • Sponge bathe your infant at least until the stump has formed a scab, since immersing the cord in water could allow bacteria to thrive more easily and lead to an infection.

  • Check to make sure your baby's diaper doesn't cover the stump¬†¬†-- the fabric can irritate it. Instead, fold the top of the diaper over so that it rests about an inch below the whole umbilical area.

  • If the stump seems to dangle by a thread for an extra few weeks, your doctor can painlessly snip off the remnant during your baby's four- to six-week checkup.

    Fortunately, a stump rarely becomes infected, but if it does, you'll notice swelling, pus, redness, and a strong odor around the navel. Your pediatrician can treat the area with a silver nitrate antiseptic solution, which will help dry it out.

    Once your little one's belly button heals, it may have a brownish pigmentation inside. However, this is perfectly normal and has nothing to do with how it was cut or cared for.

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