Keeping The Umbilical Stump Clean
After your baby is born, the umbilical cord is cut and clamped close to your baby's body, to allow the bellybutton to heal. After a couple of days when the stump has dried out a little bit, the midwife will remove the clamp. The umbilical stump will then shrivel up, turn black, and fall off, which usually happens between 5-15 days after birth. When the stump falls out it takes another 7-10 days for the belly button to heal completely.
How To Keep it Clean
It's important to keep the umbilical stump clean and dry, to prevent infection. Always wash your hands well before changing your baby's nappy or clothes, and before washing the stump. Clean the stump with a clean flannel or sponge dipped in warm water. You can either use plain water, or water that has been mixed with a small amount of soap designed for babies. You might prefer to give your baby sponge baths rather than baths in a tub until the stump falls off, to help keep it dry. It's not dangerous however, to get the stump wet, but make sure you dry it properly if it gets wet by gently patting it, and always make sure the stump is completely dry before putting on a nappy.
To prevent the stump from getting soiled, fold down your baby's nappy below the stump. Some nappies have the front part of the nappy cut out, to allow room for the umbilical stump. If the stump does get soiled, gently wash it with a ph neutral cleanser designed for babies (ph neutral products have a ph factor of 7).
What to Watch Out For
You don't need to rub alcohol or antiseptic on the stump to clean it, as used to be advised. Although using alcohol or antiseptic is not damaging to your baby (unless you get too much alcohol on your baby's skin, which can cause irritation), it is not usually necessary and can result in it taking longer for the umbilical stump to fall off. Don't be tempted to try and cut the stump away from your baby, or pull at it, even if you think it is almost off. It will fall away on its own when it is ready.
The umbilical stump has no nerves in it, so you won't hurt your baby when you clean it, but be gentle and make sure you don't pull or tug at it too hard.
Signs of an infected stump are a foul odour coming from the area, a fever, and the skin around the stump becoming red or irritated. If you notice these, take your baby to see a doctor.