The umbilical cord, also known as the birth cord, is the connecting cord from the developing embryo or fetus to the placenta. The umbilical cord supplies the baby with oxygen and nutrient rich blood from the placenta and sends out deoxygenated, nutrient depleted blood. Shortly after birth, the flow of blood is halted and a natural clamp is formed. The cord is clamped and cut close to the body.
It is a painless process that leaves a small stump called the baby umbilical cord stump. It takes about 10 to 20 days for the umbilical stump to dry and fall off. It may leave a wound that will eventually heal. It is important that proper care be taken of the umbilical stump.
It has to be kept clean and dry. It is best to sponge bathe the baby until it dries and drops off. The baby's diaper can be folded below the stump so that it does not rub against it. You might find a little blood when the stump drops off, which is normal.
If you live in a warm place, it is best to only keep a diaper and loose clothing on your baby so as to allow air to circulate and hasten the drying process. Do not try to remove the cord even if it seems ready to fall off at any moment. Sometimes, some bits of lumpy flesh may remain which will fall off soon. Even if it remains for a longer time, it can be treated through a painless process. The umbilical cord is generally cleaned with a cotton swab dipped in alcohol once or twice a day. However, even if it is left dry on its own, it dries well and much earlier than cleaning it with alcohol.
Sometimes problems can arise before the umbilical cord falls off; the area of muscle around the belly button goes weak and may cause the abdomen to bulge as a result of a gap. This is called baby umbilical cord hernia and most often occurs in first three weeks of birth. It is more common in boys, and you will recognize the hernia, which appears larger when the baby laughs, cries, coughs, or strains. It is not a serious condition and will disappear in about 2 to 3 years, but if it appears to worsen, it might require a surgery. The surgery is done by cutting the skin around the belly button and the muscles are stitched together to pull them closer. The stitches dissolve in a week.
Baby umbilical cord infection is uncommon, and when it happens, the baby might get fever. The area around the stump may become red and swollen and yellow or white pus may form with a foul odor. Consult a physician to treat the infection.