The baby belly button is what’s left of the umbilical cord that attaches a baby to his mother before his birth. This cord channels nutrients and oxygen from mother to baby. The cord is cut when your baby is born, but a small stump is left attached to his tummy.

Your baby’s umbilical stump: what to expect

After your baby’s birth, your midwife will put a plastic clamp or tie on the umbilical stump. The clamp will be taken off after a day or two, when the stump has dried and sealed.

During the first few days after birth, the stump will get darker and shrivel, and will eventually fall off. Sometimes it takes a week or two. If the stump hasn’t fallen off after more than two weeks, you can check with your child and family health nurse.

While the stump is drying up and just after it falls off, you might notice some oozing around the baby belly button. This might be clear, sticky or brownish, and might leave a mark on the baby’s clothes or nappy. It might also smell a little. This oozing is part of the healing process.

Cleaning and caring for the baby belly button

Wash your hands before handling the cord stump, and avoid touching it whenever possible.

Keep the baby belly button area clean with water. You don’t need to use soap, creams, antiseptics or alcohol to clean it, and you don’t need to bandage the belly button.

Make sure the stump dries properly after bathing. The stump will dry and heal much faster if you expose it to air as much as possible. So try not to cover it with plastic pants and nappies. Fold nappies down and away from the stump if you can.

If the stump gets wee or poo on it, wash it off using clean water and soap. It’s best to use a mild soap to wash poo off, because baby poo has a high percentage of fat in it. This can make it difficult to get off with just water.

If you’re still seeing sticky liquid several days after the stump has dropped off, it’s a good idea to see your GP to check whether your baby has an infection.

See the doctor as soon as possible if your baby’s belly gets hot, red or swollen, and she has a fever or is otherwise unwell. Your baby might need antibiotics.

If your baby develops a lump near his belly button, it might be an umbilical hernia. This isn’t dangerous, but you should see your GP or child and family health nurse.

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Raising Children Network is supported by the Australian Government. Member organisations are the Parenting Research Centre and the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute with The Royal Children’s Hospital Centre for Community Child Health.

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