Umbilical cord care seems to always be changing. Alcohol was once used routinely but isn’t recommended anymore (and isn’t very natural!)—so what’s the alternative?

Here are some simple guidelines to help you navigate umbilical cord care the natural way.

When Does the Newborn Umbilical Cord Fall Off?

Baby’s umbilical cord may fall off anywhere from 3 days to 2 weeks after birth. How long it takes may depend on how you care for the cord stump (or cord if you’re doing a lotus birth).

How to Care for the Baby Umbilical Cord

Here are the guidelines for proper newborn umbilical cord care.

✔ Leave it alone

Contrary to what many moms have been told for years, leaving the stump alone is the best way to support healing. That means don’t pick at it or try to encourage it to fall off.

✔ Let it dry

Let air get to it as much as possible. Keeping it dry will help the stump to dry up and fall off. Fold baby’s diaper down so it can get air. Skip onesies until the stump falls off if possible.

✔ Sponge bathe

Until baby’s cord falls off, you should only give him sponge baths. Babies don’t need lots of bathing anyway (neither do adults). Put baby on a bath seat, and use warm water, gentle soap, and a washcloth to clean baby’s skin—but avoid the cord stump. If it does get wet, dry it with a soft cloth.

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How to Clean Baby’s Belly Button

If baby’s cord stump needs a little care beyond letting it heal naturally, there are some gentle ways to keep it clean.

Alcohol was once used routinely for newborn cord care, but it isn’t typically recommended anymore. Luckily, there are alternatives that are safe and natural.

✔ Sterile water

If the stump is gunky, you can use a wet Q-tip to remove the gunk. Dry it well with a soft cloth afterwards.

✔ Breast milk

Breast milk is full of live probiotics, antibodies, and antibacterial properties. Squirt a little fresh breast milk onto the stump to keep it from getting infected, or treat an emerging infection (talk to your health care provider first if you suspect infection).

✔ Powdered herbs

Goldenseal root powder, dried rosemary, and dried myrrh are a few herbs that can be sprinkled onto baby’s stump. Midwives swear by the power of antibacterial herbs to help keep infection at bay. Dried herbs may also help the stump fall off sooner.

Anecdotal evidence shows that stumps that had dried herbs used on them fell off around day 3 as opposed to the standard 1–2 weeks—what a difference! All you have to do is sprinkle a little dried herbs on the cord stump at each diaper change.

✔ Herbal bath

Great for postpartum healing for mom too, an herbal bath may help the umbilical cord stump to dry up and fall off. Comfrey, calendula, lavender, myrrh, rosemary, and yarrow are some healing herbs you can use in the herbal bath. Just be sure to dry the stump well before dressing baby.

✔ Witch hazel

Some moms use witch hazel instead of the traditional alcohol, but many brands of witch hazel contain quite a bit of alcohol. If you want to use witch hazel, pick a brand that is pure, like this one.

Innie vs. Outtie

Is there any way to tell if baby is going to have an innie or outtie? Well, no. Many babies look like they may have an outtie, but their belly button turns into an innie as baby grows. And there isn’t any way to “make” a belly button into an innie or outtie. I guess it’s just luck of the draw!

The Cord Fell Off—Now What?

Once the baby’s umbilical cord falls off, you can bathe baby normally. Be aware that the stump may still look red and raw—or crusty—but should become more “normal-looking” in anywhere from a few days to 2 weeks.

Infected Umbilical Cord: When to Call the Doctor

Sometimes when the stump falls off, baby will be left with a red mass called an umbilical cord granuloma. The mass may be moist or inflamed, but it’s not an emergency and can be taken care of easily. If your baby has a granuloma, don’t put him in bath water. Call your pediatrician right away.

If you notice signs of infection, call your pediatrician ASAP.

Symptoms of infection may include:

  • Fever
  • Red, swollen, and warm cord stump and surrounding skin
  • Yellow or green pus
  • Continuous umbilical stump bleeding
  • Foul odor

Final Thoughts on Newborn Umbilical Cord Care

Leaving the umbilical cord stump to heal on its own is the best thing to do. Keep an eye on it and make sure it’s not getting infected—but otherwise, let nature take its course. You’ll be glad you did!