As a labor and delivery nurse, I instruct patients on how to take care of their baby’s umbilical cord when they leave the hospital. I demonstrate, educate and motivate — it’s just part of the job.
Innie or outie: Simple tips for cord care at home
So when my son’s pediatrician reprimanded me for not cleaning his umbilical cord properly, you can imagine my embarrassment.
I strolled into the pediatrician’s office for my son’s 1-week check-up feeling pretty confident with myself. Now the mother of three kids ages 4 and under, and a medical professional, I felt like I had this parenting thing down pat.
As the pediatrician listed to my son’s heartbeat and bowel sounds, he paused.
He pulled down his diaper a bit and frowned over at me.
“His umbilical cord hasn’t fallen off yet?” he asked.
Immediately I felt my face flush with heat. “Oh, um, well... no,” I laughed nervously. “Weird, isn’t it?”
The doctor ignored me and leaned in closer to my son. He pulled gently up on his umbilical cord and I gasped in horror as the stump was revealed to be rotting, yellow and completely mushy.
“You haven’t been taking care of this properly,” the pediatrician admonished me. “His cord should have fallen off a long time ago,” he finished, snapping his pen to his clipboard with a flourish.
Mortified, I slinked out of the office and rushed home to practice my obviously rusty umbilical cord care skills. Which, well... what were they again?
Don’t be afraid of it
Honestly, for some reason, I was scared to properly clean my son’s umbilical cord. But the umbilical cord has no nerve endings, so no amount of cleaning should cause your baby any pain.
Pull that sucker out!
Here’s where I went drastically wrong — although I was dutifully wiping the cord with those little alcohol wipes that I swiped from the hospital with every other diaper change to help clean and dry it out, I wasn’t pulling the cord up and out well enough. So while the top of the cord got nice and dry, the bottom stayed moist and mushy, making it linger for longer than it needed to. Don’t be afraid to pull up on the cord as far as you can. If you’re still squeamish, dip a Q-tip in alcohol and gently clean the base of the cord with it.
Alcohol wipes are your friend
If you run out of your hospital stash of alcohol wipes, your local store should carry some simple alcohol squares in the health section — check by the diabetes supplies. Wipe the cord thoroughly from top to bottom with about every other diaper change, and before bed to help facilitate the drying.
As it turns out, once I followed my own advice and got over my fear of properly cleaning it, the rest of my son’s umbilical cord fell off easily on its own later that night when I towel-dried him after his bath.
Chalk that one up to my humble parenting pie. Lesson learned.