The baby belly button is what’s left of the umbilical cord after birth. Before birth this cord channels nutrients and oxygen from mother to baby in the womb. When the cord is cut at birth, a small stump is left attached to baby’s tummy.
Your baby’s umbilical stump: what to expect
After your baby’s birth, her umbilical cord is cut. Your midwife puts a plastic clamp or tie on the stump that’s left behind. The clamp is taken off after a day or two, when the umbilical 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 it might leave a mark on your baby’s clothes or nappy. It might also smell a little. This is a normal part of the healing process.
Cleaning and caring for your baby’s belly button
Wash your hands before handling the cord stump, and avoid touching it whenever possible.
Use water to keep your baby’s belly button area clean. You don’t usually 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. 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 a pH-neutral cleanser. Look for ‘pH-neutral’ on product labels, or ask your pharmacist or child and family health nurse to recommend a product. It can be hard to clean poo off with just water because baby poo has a lot of fat in it.
Never try to pull the stump off yourself, even if it looks like it’s ready to fall off.
Once the stump has fallen off, some babies can develop an umbilical granuloma. This usually looks like a small pink or red lump where the belly button should be. Sometimes the lump might be oozing.
An umbilical granuloma is usually harmless, but you should ask your GP or child and family nurse to have a look at it.
If your baby develops a bulge or swelling near his belly button, it might be an umbilical hernia. An umbilical hernia is often more noticeable when your baby cries or strains to do a poo. This usually isn’t dangerous, and it doesn’t hurt your baby.
An umbilical hernia will probably close on its own, but you should still see your GP or child and family health nurse about it.
See your GP as soon as possible if you’re still seeing sticky liquid several days after the stump has fallen off, if your baby’s belly button area gets hot, red or swollen, and/or if your baby has a fever or is otherwise unwell.