During pregnancy, mother and child are connected by the umbilical cord. Through it, the mother supplies the baby with the oxygen and nutrients necessary to grow properly.
What is the umbilical cord
The umbilical cord is the structure that joins the baby to its mother during gestation and runs from the navel to the placenta. It is made up of blood vessels that serve to exchange substances between the mother and the fetus. Through this route, food and oxygen reach the fetus. At birth the baby can breathe and feed itself, so the umbilical cord is not needed and is cut.
The importance of umbilical cord care
Umbilical cord care begins at birth. After delivery, the cord is clamped to prevent bleeding and then cut about 4 centimeters from the abdomen with sterile material. The excess piece of cord is held with a special plastic clip.
After this process the cord has to heal. Care is important because germs on the skin can infect you. Keeping it clean and dry is essential to avoid problems and favor its fall.
At first it looks grey, shiny and jelly-like. As the days go by, it dries and darkens in color until it falls off on its own in the first two weeks of life (there are cases in which it may take longer, such as children born by caesarean section). The cord undergoes a process of self-destruction without infection, which will culminate in the detachment of the rest of the cord. The scar that remains after the fall of the umbilical cord is what we call the navel . The remaining wound will heal in three to five days after the cord falls off.
Over time, various products have been used to care for the umbilical cord: topical antiseptic solutions (4% chlorhexidine, 70° alcohol, silver sulfadiazine, etc.), including topical antibiotics (bacitracin, mupirocin).
The use of this type of cures with topical antiseptic or antibiotic solutions is recommended in those situations in which neonatal care and hygiene measures are deficient.
As long as it doesn’t fall off, the navel should be dry, protected and covered. Before, it was advised to bathe the baby in parts, to prevent the navel from getting wet when the cord had not yet fallen off. Instead, currently, it is recommended to bathe the baby with soap and water, and dry it very well.
Currently, in developed countries where there is adequate health care and good hygiene measures, these methods have not been found to be better than cleaning the cord with soap and water and drying it well afterwards.
It seems that the use of local antiseptics and antibiotics can delay the fall of the cord , since it interferes with the normal healing process.
- Wash hands thoroughly with soap and water before care.
- Clean the area of the cord with warm water and neutral soap. Then dry it well with a sterile gauze.
- You can help keep the cord dry by wrapping a clean, dry gauze pad around it, changing the gauze with diaper changes.
- If the gauze sticks to the cord during diaper changes, do not pull it, but moisten it with a little soap and water to remove it easily.
- When putting on the diaper, use this to hold the gauze.
- You can also leave the umbilical cord clamp outside the diaper to air out.
- Carry out this cure three to four times a day, taking advantage of diaper changes or whenever it has gotten dirty.
- The cord should fall off on its own , it should not be stretched or pulled out prematurely. Once it has fallen off we have to continue cleaning the navel until it is completely dry (approximately one more week). It is not recommended to use iodine or mercromine.
When to see the pediatrician
- If the fall of the umbilical cord is delayed for more than four weeks : the pediatrician must assess whether it is an infection, maceration due to humidity or some immunological alteration.
- If fluid or blood comes out of the cord or navel: the presence of a few drops of blood are normal and appear when the cord detaches. If the bleeding is abundant, it may be due to trauma or coagulation disorders.
- If the umbilical cord gives off a bad smell: it may be a sign of infection such as omphalitis . Also, if the navel area appears red, the base of the cord suppurates, or the baby has a fever, these may be warning signs of an infection.
- If after the fall of the cord there is a red and bright area ( umbilical granuloma): the pediatrician usually prescribes a specific treatment such as silver nitrate.
- If a soft lump appears in the umbilical area: it may be a hernia that should be evaluated by the pediatrician or pediatric surgeon.
What you should know…
- Care is important because germs on the skin can infect you. Keeping it clean and dry is essential to avoid problems and favor its fall.
- Cleaning the area of the cord with warm water and neutral soap, and then drying it well with sterile gauze, is the most appropriate cleaning method.
- If the fall of the umbilical cord is delayed for more than four weeks: the pediatrician must assess whether it is an infection, maceration due to humidity or some immunological alteration.