The Umbilical cord is responsible for transporting nutrients from the mother to the baby throughout the pregnancy period. After delivery, the baby has a purplish-blue stump that is about a half inch to an inch long. It will take some time (approximately 1-2 weeks) before the stump dries up and falls off. This requires that a little care and attention is needed to this umbilical stump to prevent irritation and infection to the site.
Omphalitis is the term that denotes an infection of the umbilical stump. It is dangerous because the infection can spread quickly and easily to the liver, resulting in hepatitis, jaundice and generalized septicemia. It is always better to prevent this condition by proper care and handling of the cord itself.
After birth, potential bacterial pathogens normally colonize the umbilical stump. The invasion of these bacteria into the umbilical stump leads to omphalitis. The signs of infection you can notice include:
- Reddish appearance of the base of the cord
- Swollen cord
- Bleeding of the cord
- Foul smelling discharge emanating from the cord (can be greenish in colour)
- Pain to the baby
- Delayed separation of the cord
To prevent these symptoms of infection and complications of this infection to your baby’s general health, you must be mindful of these life-saving measures:
- Keep the umbilical area clean: According to World health organization (WHO), this is done without applying anything to the cord and in case it becomes soiled, it is only cleaned with water
- Keep the Umbilical area dry: WHO also recommends leaving the umbilical cord stump exposed to air or loosely covered by a clean cloth. Cords need to dry up, before they will fall off. As they dry up, cords normally change color. They go from a shiny yellowish blue, to brown or grey.
- Use topical antiseptics such as Chlorhexidine in situations where hygienic conditions are poor and/or infection rates are high.
- Only give sponge baths: it is advisable not to bathe your baby in a sink or special tub until after the umbilical cord stump has fallen off. After bath, make sure to fan the area to dry completely. Be careful of rubbing it to dry as this could cause irritation.
- Allow the cord to heal naturally: It may be tempting to “help” the cord dry out and fall off especially if it appears to be hanging on by a thread, but it is best to allow this to happen naturally; refrain from picking and pulling the cord off.
- Prompt changing of diapers when soiled: This is to prevent contamination of the umbilical stump. Clean the area with soap and water and ensure it is kept dry afterwards.
- Fold the diaper down to keep the area dry to aid healing, to provide air contact as well and for easier inspection to detect deviations from normal.
- Always check the skin around the base of the cord once a day, ensure to keep the area dry and clean.
- If you notice any of the signs of infection, promptly see a doctor. Early detection enhances good prognosis of umbilical stump infection.