UMBILICAL CORD PROBLEMS

Symptom Definition

  • Umbilicus (navel) has a cloudy discharge or even some dried pus on the surface
  • Bleeding occurs from umbilical cord’s point of separation
  • Separation of umbilical cord is delayed past 2 weeks

WHEN TO CALL YOUR DOCTOR FOR UMBILICAL CORD PROBLEMS

Call Your Doctor Now (night or day) If:

  • Your child looks or acts very sick
  • Bleeding won't stop after 10 minutes of direct pressure applied twice
  • Spot of lost blood > 2 inches (5 cm)
  • Newborn (< 1 month old) starts to look or act sick in any way
  • Red streak runs from the navel
  • Red area spreads beyond the navel
  • Fever > 100.4 F (38.0 C) rectally

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

  • You think your child needs to be seen
  • Small recurrent bleeding continues > 3 days
  • Pimples or , blisters or sores in area
  • Lots of drainage from navel (urine, mucus, pus, etc.)

Call Your Doctor During Weekday Office Hours If:

  • You have other questions or concerns
  • After 3 days of treatment, navel is not dry and clean
  • Nubbin of pink tissue inside the navel
  • Cord attached > 6 weeks

Parent Care at Home If:

  • Normal cord or navel, questions about
  • Superficial infection of cord or navel and you don’t think your child needs to be seen
  • Normal umbilical bleeding and you don’t think your child needs to be seen
  • Normal early separation of the cord before 10 days
  • Normal delayed separation of the cord beyond 2 weeks

HOME CARE ADVICE FOR NORMAL UMBILICAL CORD

  1. Alcohol: Clean the navel with rubbing alcohol 4 times per day. Use a cotton swab to clean away the dried pus or debris. Be vigorous about it. The umbilical area does not have any sensation, so the alcohol won't sting. If the cord is still present, clean underneath it by lifting it and bending it to each side. If the cord has fallen off, pour some alcohol into the depression and remove it after 2 or 3 minutes. (Reason: it takes that long to kill the bacteria.)
  2. Diapers: Keep the umbilical area dry to help healing. To provide air exposure, keep the diaper folded down below the cord area.
  3. Dryness: Avoid tub baths until the area is healed.
  4. Poop on Cord: Getting some poop on the cord or navel is not serious. If it occurs, clean the area with lots of water, followed by rubbing alcohol. That should prevent any infections.
  5. Call Your Doctor If:
    • Develops a red streak
    • Fever occurs
    • Your baby begins to look sick or develops any of the "Call Your Doctor" symptoms

HOME CARE ADVICE FOR SUPERFICIAL INFECTION OF THE CORD OR NAVEL

  1. Reassurance: A cloudy discharge from the navel is usually a mild infection from normal skin bacteria. Usually home treatment can clear it up quickly.
  2. Alcohol: Clean the navel with rubbing alcohol 4 times per day. Use a cotton swab to clean away the dried pus or debris. Be vigorous about it. The umbilical area does not have any sensation, so the alcohol won't sting. If the cord is still present, clean underneath it by lifting it and bending it to each side. If the cord has fallen off, pour some alcohol into the depression and remove it after 2 or 3 minutes. (Reason: it takes that long to kill the bacteria.)
  3. Antibiotic Ointment: If a little pus is present, apply an antibiotic ointment (OTC) 4 times per day after each cleansing. Bacitracin or Polysporin ointment will do.
  4. Diapers: Keep the umbilical area dry to help healing. To provide air exposure, keep the diaper folded down below the cord area.
  5. Dryness: Avoid tub baths until the area is healed.
  6. Call Your Doctor If:
    • Develops a red streak
    • Fever occurs
    • Navel  is not completely dry and clean after 3 days using this treatment
    • Your baby begins to look sick or develops any of the "Call Your Doctor" symptoms

HOME CARE ADVICE FOR NORMAL UMBILICAL BLEEDING

  1. Reassurance: A few drops of blood is normal with cord separation. Friction against clothing may make it recur.
  2. Bleeding: Apply direct pressure for 10 minutes with a sterile gauze to stop any bleeding. Clean the area beforehand, rather than afterwards. (Reason: to prevent rebleeding.)
  3. Diaper: Prevent friction on the umbilical stump from the diaper by folding it down or cutting a wedge out of it.
  4. Call Your Doctor If:
    • Bleeding becomes worse
    • Few drops of blood continues > 3 days
    • Your baby begins to look sick or develops any of the "Call Your Doctor" symptoms

HOME CARE ADVICE FOR NORMAL EARLY SEPARATION OF THE CORD

  1. Reassurance: The cord can't fall off too early. The average cord falls off between 10 and 14 days.
  2. Alcohol: Clean the navel with rubbing alcohol and a cotton swab 4 times per day. Pour some alcohol into the depression and remove it after 2 or 3 minutes. (Reason: it takes that long to kill the bacteria.) The umbilical area does not have any sensation, so the alcohol won't sting.
  3. Diapers: Keep the umbilical area dry to help healing. To provide air exposure, keep the diaper folded down below the navel.
  4. Dryness: Avoid tub baths until the area is healed.
  5. Call Your Doctor If:
    • Develops a red streak
    • Fever occurs
    • Your baby begins to look sick or develops any of the "Call Your Doctor" symptoms

HOME CARE ADVICE FOR NORMAL DELAYED SEPARATION OF THE CORD

  1. Reassurance: Most cords fall off between 10 and 14 days. All cords eventually fall off by themselves. Continue to be patient.
  2. Stop Alcohol: Stop applying rubbing alcohol to the cord. Rubbing alcohol sometimes kills the good bacteria that help the cord dry up and fall off.
  3. Diaper: Help the cord dry up faster by keeping the diaper folded below it. An easier approach is to cut out a wedge of the diaper (if disposable) with a scissors so the cord is exposed to the air.
  4. Call Your Doctor If:
    • Cord begins to look infected
    • Fever occurs
    • Cord is still attached > 6 weeks
    • Your baby begins to look sick or develops any of the "Call Your Doctor" symptoms

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.

Pediatric HouseCalls Online. Copyright © 2000-2004 Barton D. Schmitt, M.D. FAAP

Reviewed 8/2004

Revised 8/2004

View Anatomic Index of Topics