I field umbilical cord care questions every day. The problem is that the cord has a kind of wide end as it dries (from the clamp) which is easily caught on things like a diaper. If it gets knocked/ripped off too early it will inevitably bleed. It’s no surprise that a bleeding belly button in a brand new baby causes parents a lot of stress. The good news is that it is generally not a big deal and nothing to be worried about. I see it so frequently, that my guess is that it happens at least half the time. Simply clean it with an alcohol swab, apply a little pressure (if it’s bleeding a lot), then leave it alone. Don’t put any fancy creams, ointments, or dressings/bandages on it. It will form a new scab in a few days and the new scab will fall off when the belly button is healed.
I shot this pic in clinic this past week to show you what the new scab will look like. This one is healing nicely.
-Featured photo courtesy of www.123rf.com. The other photo courtesy of a really nice mom in my practice that let me snap a photo.
How do I care for the umbilical cord?
Caring for your baby’s umbilical cord is quite easy. You don’t have to do anything. It used to be that parents were told to dab rubbing alcohol on it. The new recommendations are to put nothing on it and let it dry up and fall off on its own. If the cord starts to get goopy or smelly, you can use alcohol, you won’t hurt anything. It just isn’t necessary otherwise.
When should it fall off?
Most cords fall off between 1 and 3 weeks; average is around 2 weeks. If the cord is knocked off prematurely, it can bleed and a new scab will form. If it is delayed in falling off by more than 1 month, you need to call your doctor. There are a few rare medical conditions that can cause delayed cord falling off and your doctor needs to evaluate.
The cord is bleeding, should I worry?
Often times a cord will get knocked by clothing or diapers and start to bleed. Usually the bleeding is very minimal and will stop with a little pressure. This is quite common and not worrisome. Usually, a new scab will form and heal appropriately. If there is profuse bleeding (dripping blood or more), your child needs to be seen by the pediatrician.
When should I worry?
If the skin on your baby’s belly around the umbilical cord is red, warm, or tender, your child must be seen. Consider that the umbilical cord is a direct connection to the inside of your baby’s body. If there are any signs of infection (e.g., red skin, warm, tenderness) on the outside then you may have a more involved infection on the inside, or the skin may be infected. If that happens, your baby needs to be seen by the pediatrician immediately.