What to Know About an Infected Umbilical Cord

last year6 min read
Last updated: Mar 17 2023

Here’s what to know about an infected umbilical cord, including how to identify it and when to ask for help. Read on for details.

Infected Umbilical Cord

It’s not that common, but an infected umbilical cord can happen.

To keep your little peanut safe, we’ve put together everything you might want to know about an infected umbilical cord, including how to identify it and when to ask for help.

Along with being magical, the early stages of mamahood can feel overwhelming.

Fortunately, you’re not alone. We’ve got you.

In this article: 📝

  • How do I know my newborn’s belly button is healing well?
  • How common is an infected umbilical cord?
  • When should I be concerned about my baby’s umbilical cord?
  • Is an infected umbilical cord an emergency?
  • How do you treat an infected umbilical cord?
  • Infected umbilical cord stump: The bottom line

How do I know my newborn’s belly button is healing well?

After your little one’s umbilical cord gets clamped at the hospital, they’ll have a little stump on their belly button for about two weeks or so.

It can look a little different from what you may have expected—greenish-yellow at first and then black as it dries and gets ready to fall off.

During this time, It’s important to take good care of your little one’s umbilical cord stump by keeping it clean and dry.

If there’s no pus, swelling, or redness, and the skin around the belly button stays a normal, healthy color, you can safely assume it’s healing well.

And a little bit of blood when the umbilical cord falls off is totally normal.

Don’t worry about this unless it doesn’t stop bleeding or unless your little one has other symptoms.

How common is an infected umbilical cord?

The medical term for an infected umbilical cord is omphalitis.

It means that the umbilicus (the technical word for the belly button) or surrounding tissue has become infected.

As this study explains, an infected umbilical cord should be taken very seriously.

If left untreated, it can lead to infection elsewhere in the body and, in the worst cases, even cause death.


But before you panic, mama, it’s important to know that infected umbilical cords are rare in places where birthing environments tend to be safe and sterile.

In fact, as that same study tell us, there is an incidence of just 0.7% of umbilical cord infections in more economically developed countries.

And even if your little one’s umbilical cord does get infected, they should be absolutely fine if you act quickly.

When should I be concerned about my baby’s umbilical cord?

OK, let’s take a look at the symptoms that might warn you of an infected newborn belly button. Keep an eye out for the following signs:

  • Pus or fluid in or near the stump
  • A smelly, yellow discharge around the umbilical cord stump
  • A swollen navel area
  • A swollen abdomen
  • Red skin around the stump
  • A fever
  • Your little one cries when you touch the stump, which suggests that it is tender or sore.

A little bit of discharge and dry blood—and even some bleeding when the stump falls off and reveals your little one’s perfect belly button to you—is totally normal.

But if the bleeding won’t stop after ten minutes, and especially if you notice any of the other symptoms, it’s time to call a doctor.

Is an infected umbilical cord an emergency?

Yes, you want to step in pretty quickly here, mama.

Your little peanut’s umbilical cord has direct access to their bloodstream.

This means that, even if they get a mild infection in their umbilical cord, it can spread to other parts of their body.

This can get quite serious.

And unfortunately, it’s fatal in between 7% and 15% of cases.

Be especially careful if your little one is a preemie since they won’t have a very strong immune system in their first few weeks in the world.

Call your doctor straight away if you notice any of the warning signs.

How do you treat an infected umbilical cord?

The first thing your doctor will likely do is run some tests to see what’s causing your baby’s infection.

This info will help them to prescribe the right antibiotic to set your baby right.

What happens next depends on how serious the infection is.

Treatment for a minor infected umbilical cord

A little bit of pus, but no redness, swelling, or obvious pain is usually a sign of a minor infection.

Just because it’s minor at this stage, doesn’t mean you should delay, though, mama.

These infections can get more serious the longer you leave them, so chat to your doctor as soon as you can.

In the case of a minor infection, your doctor will probably prescribe an antibiotic ointment, which you’ll likely have to apply to the skin around the cord a few times a day.

Treatment of a serious umbilical cord infection

If your baby has several of the symptoms we mentioned above, they might have quite a serious infection.

In these instances, they’ll likely be hospitalized so that they can be properly treated and cared for.

While they’re in the hospital, they will probably be given intravenous antibiotics to fight the infection.

This treatment usually lasts up to ten days, and they’ll have to be in the hospital the whole time.

Sometimes, doctors will also drain the infection.

And if some of the tissue around your baby’s belly button has died because of the infection, they might also need to operate to remove this tissue.

If you catch the infection early, your baby should be fine in a few weeks.

It might take a little bit longer if they had to have surgery.

Infected umbilical cord stump: The bottom line

Infected umbilical cords can be serious if they happen.

But luckily, they’re very rare. Keep a close eye.

And, if you notice anything that looks concerning, speak to your doctor.

Your little one should make a full recovery if you tackle an infection quickly.

And if you need support along the way, chat with your Peanut community.

We don’t have to do this alone.

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