Having a newborn baby is a wonder and a miracle come true. But, particularly when you are a first time parent, you may wonder what to do with their belly button! A newborn baby still has a small part of the umbilical cord attached to their belly button, which needs some specialist care until it falls off on its own. Following this, the belly button itself also needs some more care, of course. So, before you find out whether your new baby has an “inny” or an “outy”, make sure you apply the correct newborn belly button care.
What Does the Umbilical Cord Do?
The umbilical cord is the cord through which the baby receives all its essential nutrients from the mother, including oxygen and foods. The cord is attached to the placenta and when your baby is born, the umbilical cord will be cut close to the skin. This does not hurt your baby in any way, of course. What you are then left with is a small stump, which will fall off on its own after between 10 and 21 days. It is important to remember that there are no nerve endings in your baby’s umbilical cord, so you will never hurt your baby by touching or cleaning it.
When the umbilical cord is cut, a clamp made of plastic will be placed on the stump end. This clamp can stay on until the stump falls off, although some midwives will remove it after a few days when the stump has sealed and dried. Once it has sealed, the stump will start turning black and shrivel up, until it completely comes off.
What to Do?
Firstly, always remember that when you are cleaning your baby, your own hands need to be thoroughly cleaned. It is very important to make sure the umbilical stump remains dry and clean. Hence, it should be outside of the nappy, so that it can breathe and does not get touched by urine. Many people choose to fold the nappy over at the front, tucking it under the belly button, but you could also cut a piece of the nappy off. If you do find that urine or feces have come into contact with your baby’s umbilical stump, clean the area gently with antiseptic that is pH neutral and suitable for babies.
Some people and physicians recommend swabbing the umbilical stump with some alcohol twice a day. This is also done by midwives before clamping the cord. The vote is slightly out on whether or not there are any benefits to this practice, but it has also not been shown to have any ill effects. However, it does seem that umbilical stumps that have not been swabbed fall off quicker, as they dry out quicker.
When you change your baby’s nappy, check if there is any residue from the umbilical stump and gently wipe any away with a cotton swab.
What Not to Do
Never, under any circumstances, pull the umbilical stump off, even if it looks as if it is going to fall off. At some point, you will change your baby and find it has come off by itself. It is also important, as stated earlier, to allow the stump to breathe, hence if at all possible, ensure your baby is clothed in loose clothing that are made of breathable fabrics.
Some people hope their baby will have an “inny” belly button. However, belly button shapes are natural, and you will not be able to change your baby’s “outy” into an “inny” by putting pressure on the belly button. An old wives’ tale is that pressing a coin to the umbilical stump will turn the belly button into an “inny”, and this is absolutely not true and can also be damaging to your baby, particularly since coins carry all sorts of germs on them.
Whilst the umbilical stump is still attached, it is best not to give a baby a fully submerging bath. As the area needs to remain dry, it is best to give your baby sponge baths until the stump has fallen off. Of course, once it has fallen off, you can give your baby all the baths you want. Did you know, by the way, that allowing a dad to bathe with his baby releases bonding hormones in both father and baby? These are some of the same hormones that are released by women when they are breastfeeding.
Sometimes after the umbilical stump falls off, some umbilical granuloma, or small lumpy bits of flesh, may remain. This is a very common complication of umbilical care and not serious in any way. A physician will be able to remove the lumps without any pain to your baby, as there are no nerves in the granuloma.
Very rarely, an infection can occur around your newborn’s belly button. This will generally manifest itself in a fever in your newborn, as well as swelling, redness or even discharge or pus around the belly button. If this occurs, you must seek medical treatment immediately, as infections can be very damaging to newborn babies.
Sometimes, the stump itself can cause some irritation to your baby’s skin. It is quite easy to check whether redness is caused by an infection or just by irritation, by marking the edge of the redness with a pen. After around half an hour check to see if the redness has spread any further. If it has, then it is likely your baby has an infection and you should seek medical advice. If it hasn’t, then it is just irritation, which will clear up in a few days. In case of an infection, you may also find the umbilical stump is quite foul smelling.
It is also quite common to see some bleeding from the belly button, which is caused by the blood vessel separating between the umbilical cord and the belly button itself. If this happens, apply some gentle pressure to the bleeding. If it does not stop within around 10 minutes, you may want to seek medical advice to remain on the safe side.
So, whether your baby has an “inny” or an “outy” is something you discover after around 10 days following the birth of your baby, when the umbilical stump falls off. Keep in mind that whilst the umbilical stump is still attached, the area remains dry and clean. Do not follow any old wives tales in trying to change the type of your baby’s belly button, this does not work and could potentially harm your baby as well as the healing process of the umbilical stump. Ensure there is plenty of space for the umbilical stump to breathe by not covering it up with a nappy or tight fitting clothing. Using alcohol swabs is possible, but has not been shown to give any great benefits, unless your baby’s umbilical stump has come into contact with urine or feces or unless it is advised by a medical professional. Of course, if you have any concerns at all, contact your midwife or other health care professional. Most of all, however, use common sense and enjoy your newborn baby!