Drying Out the Umbilical Cord Stump
My nephew's cord took over six weeks to fall off as well. My sister
scrubbed alcohol all over the cord several times each day as recommend by
the hospital nurses. His cord stayed wet and icky.

Several years ago we discussed this on a midwifery list. Seems in other
countries nothing is put on the umbilical cord, or only a medicated powder
is used. Few other countries recommend dousing the cord with alcohol, which
is over 80% water. When the cord is allowed to dry out, it kind of rots
off. One doctor told me the only thing that should go on the cord stump is
sunlight. Some midwives use goldenseal or rosemary powder; these help the
cord dry out.
-Camellia May

There's no reason whatsoever not to bathe a baby normally prior to the cord
falling off. In fact, it will tend to encourage the cord to detach earlier,
much like the softening and re-drying of a scab. Swabbing a cord with
alcohol on a regular basis actually prolongs the time until it falls off.
Simple normal hygiene, with attention to abnormalities (redness, swelling)
is generally all that is needed. My kiddo's cord fell off at one week; we
bathed her immersed from the time she was five minutes old. As she loved
water and it soothed her immensely to be buoyant, I can't imagine depriving
an infant of that particular joy. I've seen four babies in my limited
practice and personal experience who have had a Leboyer style bath after
birth, and each of those babies has been extremely calm for months
afterward, no colic, no fussiness.

I know it is common practice in some countries (notably the US) not to
bathe babies until the cord falls off. Here in Australia babies are bathed
on (shock horror) day one! *And* we don't do "cord care" anymore!
-Kirsten Blacker

In my experience, the best thing to do to the baby's cord is...nothing!
Just leave it alone. My son's cord fell off at just three days, but my mom
told me that my older brother's took five weeks. So it seems like it varies
by baby. Just don't worry about it unless it somehow gets infected.
-Michal Lynn Moyer

Starting from attending waterbirths twelve years ago, we realized there is
no reason to keep newborns out of the tub (at home of course; I don't
recommend bathing babies at all in the hospital as the vernix is protective
and there are a lot of dangerous germs around).

But right from the start newborns can go into the bath with their moms. The
best way is to undress the baby and wrap him in a cotton blanket. That way
he feels secure. Then have someone pass him to mom who is already sitting
in a tub full of nice warm water. If he is a bit apprehensive he can be
nursed for comfort while he gets used to the water. Most little ones love
this kind of bath. Within a few minutes the blanket can be allowed to drift
away. There is a good big supply of warm water, not a little tub that is
cooling off as the babe is undressed. The mom feels secure so the baby is
calm and a good time is had by all. And once the baby is enjoying baths,
dad can be the bath-giver. The real purpose here is pleasure, not hygiene.

Bathing causes no problems with the cord. If anything, water helps the oils
dry up and the cord falls off more quickly.
-C Ruskin, RM

If alcohol is used to clean the cord, it will take longer to fall off,
since alcohol is a preservative. Alcohol-cleaned cords can take several
weeks to fall off, whereas those cleaned in water alone tend to fall off
within the first week. There is no need to avoid bathing when the cord is
still present; just wipe it gently with a wet cotton ball or clean cloth
and then carefully pat dry.

A study is underway at BC Women's Hospital, looking at bacterial
colonization on alcohol-cleaned vs. water-cleaned cords. So far, they've
found (I believe--maybe someone out there has more details) that there are
more bacteria present on the water-cleaned cords, but no greater incidence
of infection in the newborns.
-Jennifer Landels
Vancouver BC

Reprinted from Midwifery Today E-News (Vol 2 Issue 13 March 31, 2000)
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