Bathing a newborn can get pretty dicey. They're so little, but somehow they have the strength of 10 men when they start to fight you. Add to the fact that they're all slippery from soap and sudsy bath water, and you have a recipe for disaster — or at least a mess. On top of the mechanics of it, babies have delicate areas that get pretty disgustingly dirty and grungy, like their umbilical stump and subsequent new belly button. It's bafflingly nasty in the beginning, and you need to learn how to remove umbilical crust from your baby's belly button, because it's not as simple as it seems.
With how crusty and gross it can get, you're probably going to be tempted to give your child's brand new belly button a good scrubbing or submerge it in bath water to loosen up all the gunk. However, the pediatricians and providers at The University Hospital and Rainbow Babies Children's Center in Cleveland, Ohio warn against this practice until the baby's new belly button is completely healed. That means there should be no redness, no oozing, and no scabbing that hasn't fallen off naturally. Until then, it's only sponge baths and gentle cleansing. The doctors also iterate that it's incredibly important to keep the area dry, because a dry stump and belly button heal more quickly than one that is kept moist.
When I had my son 10 years ago, I was given all kinds of weird advice from my mother-in-law, my sister-in-law, my MawMaw, and even random passersby when it came to my son's stubborn umbilical stump. When it finally fell off, I was once again met with all kinds of weird advice from rubbing it with peroxide to burning sage around my child to encourage it to heal more quickly. Honestly, I'm surprised no one told me to use essential oils and pink quartz crystals harvested on the third full moon after the new year to make it better.
Turns out, modern medicine has a slightly different take on how to help your child's stump and how to remove umbilical crust from your baby's belly button, and none of it involves burning herbs. Instead, according to researchers in the health system of British Columbia, it's mostly about gentle cleaning with a damp cloth and allowing it to dry up. Researchers wrote, "You may notice a red, raw-looking spot right after the stump falls off." On my son, there was a time I thought he'd have an outie because of this raw area that was a bit swollen. The researchers also noted that "a small amount of fluid sometimes tinged with blood may ooze out of the navel area." That can last for up to two weeks after the stump falls off, but if it lasts longer, you need to see your provider.
According to UK Midwife Nikki Khan, your baby losing their stump is not painful, but she said in a YouTube video that, "For a period of about seven to 10 days after it's fallen off, you still have to be quite careful of it with regards to infection." That means that until everything is healed, and there is no scabbing, you're still doing sponge baths only, and mostly leaving the belly button be. However, according to University Hospital, "If any pus is present, use an antibiotic ointment (such as Polysporin)." This is over-the-counter medicine, and they advised to put just a tiny bit on the belly button twice a day for two days after it's been cleaned.
Margaret Grell, M.D., a pediatrician at Joe DiMaggio Children's Hospital, told Parents that once that's healed, you can start giving your babies shallow tub baths and wiping the area with a clean cloth and gentle soap. The submersion should loosen up anything gunky and the area will be easier to clean. Grell stressed that parents should only bathe their children after they've cleaned their own hands thoroughly, which is honestly easy to forget.
I know — belly buttons are a gross waiting game. But thankfully, once your baby can be bathed, it all comes off pretty easily.