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.
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. But don't panic, it's not as scary as it sounds.
"Umbilical stump care is simple. Many parents over think it," Kristen Dykalski, a nurse practitioner from Copeman Healthcare Centre tells Romper. "The most important thing is to keep the area dry." Dykalski says that the actual umbilical cord stump should fall off between one and three weeks, and you can clean around the area with warm water and a cotton swab until it does. "Cotton swabs are good since they are one-time use, clean, and gentle," she says, noting that you should avoid all abrasive materials, and dry the area with a clean soft cloth after bathing.
But once that cord is gone and you're left with your kiddo's brand new belly button? Dr. Charles Shubin, Pediatrician at Mercy Medical Center tells Romper cleaning up any leftover crust and gunk from the umbilical cord is easy. "Assuming an umbilical stump means the cord has come off, cleaning it with a mild soap (unscented, such as Dove Sensitive) either with a washcloth or a sponge (a washcloth is preferred as it can be washed easier than a sponge) is recommended," he says.
UK Midwife Nikki Khan said in a YouTube video that your baby losing their stump is not painful, but "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.
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.
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.
Kristen Dykalski, nurse practitioner at Copeman Healthcare Center
Charles I. Shubin, M.D., FAAP, pediatrician at Mercy Medical Center
This post was originally published on July 25, 2018. It was updated on Aug. 23, 2019.
This article was originally published on