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Umbilical Cord Symptoms

1. Does this describe your child's symptoms?

Definition

  • This topic covers common questions asked about the umbilical cord or navel in newborns

Symptoms

  • 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

Omphalitis: Serious Complication

  • Definition: Bacterial infection of the umbilical stump with spread to the surrounding tissues. It’s a medical emergency.
  • Incidence: 1 out of 200 newborns
  • Symptoms: Spreading redness around the navel. The area may be tender, swollen and have a foul odor.
  • Risk: Higher in those who receive “dry cord care”

Umbilical Granuloma: Minor Complication

  • Definition: Soft, pink round nubbin of tissue present in center of navel after the cord falls off.  Usually covered with a clear discharge.
  • Incidence: 1 out of 500 newborns
  • Outcome: Usually grows in size if not treated.  Can become an entry point for umbilical infections.
  • Treatment: Easily treated in your doctor’s office by applying silver nitrate chemical.

2. When to Call Your Doctor

Call Your Doctor Now (night or day) If

  • Newborn (under 1 month old) starts to look or act abnormal in any way
  • Bleeding won't stop after 10 minutes of direct pressure applied twice
  • Spot of blood over 2 inches (5 cm)
  • Red streak runs from the navel
  • Red area spreads beyond the navel
  • Fever above 100.4° F (38.0° C) rectally (Caution: Do NOT give your baby any fever medicine before being seen)
  • You think your child needs to be seen urgently

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

  • You think your child needs to be seen, but not urgently
  • Small recurrent bleeding continues over 3 days
  • Pimples, 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 following topic advice for 3 days, navel is not dry and clean
  • Nubbin of pink tissue inside the navel
  • Cord attached over 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

3. HOME CARE ADVICE FOR UMBILICAL CORD SYMPTOMS

  • 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.)
    • There is a minor controversy about using alcohol on the cord. Some hospitals recommend natural drying of the cord because using alcohol can delay separation of the cord by 1 or 2 days. However, alcohol prevents some cord infections and that is what's really important.  
  • Reassurance: A cloudy discharge from the navel is usually a mild infection from normal skin bacteria. Usually home treatment can clear it up quickly.
  • Reassurance: A few drops of blood is normal with cord separation. Friction against the diaper may make it recur.
  • Reassurance: The cord can't fall off too early. The average cord falls off between 10 and 14 days.
  • Reassurance: Most cords fall off between 10 and 14 days. All cords eventually fall off by themselves. Continue to be patient.
  • Diapers: Keep the umbilical area dry to help healing. To provide air exposure, keep the diaper folded down below the cord area.
  • 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.)
  • 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)
  • 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.
  • Stop Alcohol: Stop applying rubbing alcohol to the cord. Rubbing alcohol sometimes also kills the good bacteria that help the cord dry up and fall off.
  • Dryness: Avoid tub baths until the area is healed.
  • Antibiotic Ointment: If a little pus is present, apply an antibiotic ointment such as Polysporin 4 times per day after each cleansing (no prescription needed).
  • Diaper: Prevent friction on the umbilical stump from the diaper by folding it down or cutting a wedge out of the diaper.
  • Diapers: Keep the umbilical area dry to help healing. To provide air exposure, keep the diaper folded down below the navel.
  • Diaper: Help the cord dry up faster by keeping the diaper folded below it. Another approach is to cut out a wedge of the diaper (if disposable) with scissors so the cord is exposed to the air.
  • 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.
  • Diapers: Keep the umbilical area dry to help healing. To provide air exposure, keep the diaper folded down below the cord area.
  • Call Your Doctor If:
    • Bleeding becomes worse
    • Few drops of blood continues over 3 days
    • Your baby begins to look or act abnormal
  • Dryness: Avoid tub baths until the area is healed.
  • Call Your Doctor If:
    • Cord begins to look infected
    • Fever occurs
    • Cord is still attached over 6 weeks
    • Your baby begins to look sick or act abnormal
  • Call Your Doctor If:
    • Develops a red streak
    • Fever occurs
    • Your baby begins to look or act abnormal
  • Dryness: Avoid tub baths until the area is healed.
  • Call Your Doctor If:
    • Develops a red streak
    • Fever occurs
    • Your baby begins to look or act abnormal
  • 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 or act abnormal
  • And remember, contact your doctor if your child 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.
  • Author and Senior Reviewer: Barton D. Schmitt, M.D.
  • Last Reviewed: 9/15/2011 12:00:00 AM
  • Last Revised: 8/1/2011 3:34:17 PM
  • Content Set: Pediatric HouseCalls Symptom Checker
  • Copyright 1994-2012 Barton D. Schmitt, M.D.
If this is an emergency call 911 immediately.

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