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 three blood vessels in the umbilical cord--two arteries and one vein. A medication 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 However, this practice has been replaced by the dry cord care in most U.S. hospitals.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 falls off by itself in about two to three weeks. 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 doctor will give you instructions on how to care for your baby's umbilical cord, which include keeping it dry and exposed to the air. Give sponge baths until the cord falls off and let your doctor know if it has not fallen off by one month of age.
Keep the cord on the outside of the baby's diaper. Some newborn-size diapers have special cut-outs for the cord area, but you can also fold down the top edge of the diaper. Call your baby's doctor if there is:
Bleeding from the end of the cord or the area near the skin
Pus (a yellow or white discharge)
Swelling or redness around the navel
Signs that the navel area is painful to your baby
There may be a small amount of blood around the time the stump is about to fall off and after the cord falls off, but this should stop quickly. Never try to pull the cord off. Parents are often concerned about a baby's navel being an "innie" or an "outie." There is no way to predict this or make the navel look one way or another. Contrary to popular traditions, taping a coin or other flat object over the navel does not help. It is common in some babies for there to be a small protrusion of the baby's abdomen around the navel, especially when the baby cries. This is part of the baby's development and usually goes away on its own.
Some babies may have a weakness in the abdominal muscles called an umbilical hernia. This can be checked by your baby's doctor to see if treatment is necessary.