Umbilical Cord Care (Newborn)

Closeup of hand cleaning skin around umbilical cord with cotton swab.

The umbilical cord is the tube that connects the baby to the mother. In the uterus, the umbilical cord carries blood, oxygen, and nutrition to the baby. At birth, the umbilical cord is clamped and cut. This leaves a small stump. The clamp prevents blood flowing out of the baby through the cord.

In most cases, the umbilical cord stump dries up and falls off the newborn in the first few weeks of life.

Home care

The following guidelines will help you care for your baby’s umbilical cord at home:

  • Keep the cord clean and dry.

  • Keep the cord exposed to air. Don’t cover it up inside the diaper where it may come in contact with urine or stool. To prevent this, fold the front of the diaper down below the cord. If needed, cut a notch in the front of the diaper to make a space for the cord.

  • Don’t dress your baby in clothing that is tight across the cord.

  • Don’t put your baby in bathwater until the cord has fallen off and the area where the cord was attached is dry and healing. Instead, bathe your baby with a sponge or damp washcloth.

  • Don’t try to remove the cord. It will fall off on its own.

  • Don’t use talc or other powders on the cord.

Follow-up care

Follow up with your baby’s healthcare provider as advised.

Closeup of red, inflamed skin around umbilical cord.
Call your doctor if you see redness around the cord.

When to seek medical advice

Call your baby’s healthcare provider right away if any of these occur:

  • The skin around the base of the cord is red or bleeding.

  • There is a bad smell, pus, or other discharge from the cord.

  • Your baby has a fever (see “Fever and children” below)

  • Your baby cries when you touch the cord or the area around it.

Fever and children

Always use a digital thermometer to check your child’s temperature. Never use a mercury thermometer.

For infants and toddlers, be sure to use a rectal thermometer correctly. A rectal thermometer may accidentally poke a hole in (perforate) the rectum. It may also pass on germs from the stool. Always follow the product maker’s directions for proper use. If you don’t feel comfortable taking a rectal temperature, use another method. When you talk to your child’s healthcare provider, tell him or her which method you used to take your child’s temperature.

Here are guidelines for fever temperature. Ear temperatures aren’t accurate before 6 months of age. Don’t take an oral temperature until your child is at least 4 years old.

Infant under 3 months old:

  • Ask your child’s healthcare provider how you should take the temperature.

  • Rectal or forehead (temporal artery) temperature of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher, or as directed by the provider

  • Armpit temperature of 99°F (37.2°C) or higher, or as directed by the provider

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