Umbilical Cord Infection (Newborn)

The umbilical cord connects the unborn baby to the mother in the uterus. After birth, the cord is no longer needed. It is cut, and then clamped. This leaves a small stump.

In most cases, the umbilical cord stump dries up and falls off the newborn within the first few weeks of life. But sometimes an infection can develop. This may cause the area around the cord to swell and become inflamed, red, or tender. There may be cloudy, discolored, or bad-smelling discharge from the cord. There may also be oozing or slight bleeding.

To treat the umbilical cord infection, the healthcare provider may prescribe medicine and give instructions for cord care at home.

Home care


Your child may be prescribed medicine for infection. If so, follow all instructions for giving this medicine to your child. Make sure your child completes all of the medicine, even if he or she seems to feel better.

General care

  • Wash your hands well before and after caring for the cord.

  • Clean the area around the cord as directed. You may be told to use a clean, moist cloth, alcohol pads, or a cotton swab dipped in rubbing alcohol. Remove all drainage and clean an inch around the base. If there is a little drainage is present you may be advised to use antibiotic ointment after each cleaning. Pat the area with a clean cloth and allow it to air-dry.

  • Roll your child’s diapers down below the belly button (navel) until the infection has healed. This helps prevent contamination from urine and stool. If needed, cut a notch in the front of the diapers to make a space for the cord.

  • Don’t dress your baby in clothing that is tight across the cord.

  • Don’t put your baby in bathwater until the infection has cleared and the cord has fallen off. Instead, bathe your baby with a sponge or damp washcloth.

  • Don’t use talc or other powders on the cord.

  • Don’t try to remove the cord. It will fall off on its own.

  • Watch for continuing signs of infection. This includes redness, swelling, and cloudy, discolored, or bad-smelling drainage in the area around the cord.

Follow-up care

Follow up with your child’s healthcare provider as directed.

When to seek medical advice

Call your child’s healthcare provider right away if any of these occur:

  • Your child has a fever (see “Fever and children” below)

  • Your child’s signs of infection get worse or do not improve within 2 days of starting treatment.

  • Your child won’t stop crying or seems to be in pain when you touch the area around the cord and navel.

  • There is increased bleeding from the cord.

  • Your child develops a rash, pimples, or blisters around the navel.

  • Your child refuses to feed.

  • Your child is very sleepy or not moving around as much as usual.

  • Your child seems ill or has any other symptoms that concern you.

Fever and children

Always use a digital thermometer to check your child’s temperature. Never use a mercury thermometer.

For infants and toddlers, be sure to use a rectal thermometer correctly. A rectal thermometer may accidentally poke a hole in (perforate) the rectum. It may also pass on germs from the stool. Always follow the product maker’s directions for proper use. If you don’t feel comfortable taking a rectal temperature, use another method. When you talk to your child’s healthcare provider, tell him or her which method you used to take your child’s temperature.

Here are guidelines for fever temperature. Ear temperatures aren’t accurate before 6 months of age. Don’t take an oral temperature until your child is at least 4 years old.

Infant under 3 months old:

  • Ask your child’s healthcare provider how you should take the temperature.

  • Rectal or forehead (temporal artery) temperature of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher, or as directed by the provider

  • Armpit temperature of 99°F (37.2°C) or higher, or as directed by the provider

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