How to Clean a Newborn Belly Button After the Stump Falls Off

It can take anywhere between one to three weeks for your newborn’s umbilical cord stump to fall off. Learn how to keep baby’s healing belly button clean.


When I was pregnant with my first child I had lots of questions. How often should I feed him? How many layers of clothing does he need? Is green poop normal? By the time I gave birth, I thought I knew everything there was to know about caring for an infant. That was until my little one’s umbilical cord stump fell off one afternoon, leaving behind a lumpy, slightly raw wound.

With minimal mommy experience, I just assumed that once the stump fell off my son would be left with a perfectly petite belly button. Instead, the piece of flesh looked red and irritated.

Not knowing the best way to keep the area clean, I sought advice from experts. “At some point between five and 15 days after the birth, the stump will dry up, turn black, and drop off, leaving a small wound that may take a few days to heal,” according to Babycenter Baby: The All Important First Year. “In the meantime, it’s usually fine just to wash your baby’s stump with water and mild soap.”

While most newborn belly buttons heal just fine with daily cleaning, some babies experience umbilical cord problems soon after birth. Umbilical cord symptoms may include a cloudy discharge, possible bleeding, or dried pus on the surface. Such issues can cause separation of the cord to be delayed past three weeks, according to Seattle Children’s Hospital.

What the Experts Say

Once your newborn’s umbilical cord falls off, it’s important to gently clean the area to minimize the risk of infection. In addition to keeping the skin clean with mild soap and water, give the wound plenty of air. Avoid other cleaning products such as alcohol which can irritate the healing skin.

Here’s what some experts have to say about the healing process and what you can do to accelerate your little one’s recovery:

“You may notice a few drops of blood on the diaper around the time the stump falls off; this is normal. But if the cord does actively bleed, call your baby’s doctor immediately.”

Caring for Your Baby and Young Child, Steven P. Shelov


“After the stump falls off, you can bathe Baby a few times a week (or just stick with the washcloth crevice baths), making sure not to dry out her skin by bathing her too much or using a harsh soap (warm water will do just fine).”

Feng Shui Mommy, Bailey Gaddis


“After the cord is completely off, there may be some minor yellow or clear discharge from the site for a day or two until it dries completely.

Our Bodies, Ourselves: Pregnancy and Birth, Judy Norsigian


“Infection of the umbilical cord and naval area are rare, but it can happen when bacteria enters through the open orifice. And although it’s unlikely, if your baby’s umbilical area becomes red or oozes a pus-like secretion with a bad odor, contact your pediatrician immediately.”

Eat, Play, Sleep: The Essential Guide to Your Baby’s First Three Months, Luiza DeSouza


“If the area looks reddened, or smells unpleasant, ask your midwife, health visitor, or GP to check it in case it’s the start of an infection.”

New Parents’ Survival Guide: The First Three Months, Wendy Green

Newborn Belly Button Care

If your newborn’s umbilical cord stump has recently fallen off, you may be worried that you’re not cleaning the belly button well enough. The good news is your baby’s small wound requires minimal maintenance. Follow these tips for proper newborn belly button care.

  1. Always wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water before touching your newborn’s healing belly button to prevent the spread of bacteria.
  2. Clean the skin around the belly button using a cotton swab dipped in warm water. Squeeze the swab to remove any excess water.
  3. Once the stump falls off, it’s safe to give your newborn a bath. Fill the tub partially with lukewarm water – 2 to 3 inches will do. Clean your baby’s face, hair, and body first, followed by the belly button. Use a clean, wet washcloth and a dab of gentle baby soap. Rinse the area well to remove any soap residue.
  4. Dry the area with a soft, clean towel. Pat the area dry, don’t rub to avoid irritation.
  5. Avoid the use of lotions and other products that could cause irritation or infection in a healing newborn belly button.

Red Flags to Look For

During the healing process, look for possible signs of infection such as a foul odor, pus, or fluid-filled lumps. Occasionally, a baby will develop a condition known as umbilical hernia after the stump falls off. An umbilical hernia occurs when the belly button pops outwards due a weakening in the muscles in or around the belly button. Umbilical hernias occur in one out of every six children, according to Cleveland Clinic.

Your baby’s healing belly button requires special care after the stump falls off. By following a few simple preventative care measures, your little one’s belly button will quickly heal creating a cute innie or outie.

Liz Coyle

Liz is a Scottsdale-based writer and mom to a three-year old boy. She is a lover of cooking, travel, and racing hot wheels with her son. As the mom of an only child, Liz has a unique perspective on parenting. She loves to share her experiences of being a high strung, type a mom in an imperfect world.

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