Umbilical cord infection and newborn omphalitis

Umbilical cord infection

After birth, infection of the umbilical cord stump can lead to omphalitis, a very rare but also dangerous infectious condition.

The umbilical cord

The umbilical cord is the cord that connects the fetus to the mother. It starts from an opening in the baby’s womb and travels to the mother’s placenta. It is usually about 50 centimeters long, and has the function of bringing oxygen and nutrients from the placenta to the baby.

The umbilical cord is made up of three umbilical vessels:

  • from a vein, which carries from the mother to the baby and nutrients and blood, called placental blood or cord blood, rich in oxygen
  • by two arteries, which carry deoxygenated blood and waste products such as carbon dioxide from the baby to the placenta.
    These vessels are enclosed and protected by a substance called Wharton’s jelly, which in turn is covered by a layer of membrane called the amnion.

The umbilical cord and the fetus

Towards the end of pregnancy, antibodies are passed through the cord to give the baby immunity from infection for about 3 months after birth . It should be noted in this regard that only the antibodies that the mother already has are passed through the cord.

The cord after birth

According to the recommendations of the World Health Organization of 2012, to prevent and treat postpartum hemorrhage it is necessary to wait to block and cut the umbilical cord after the birth of the baby because a delay in the tightening of the cord allows the continuous flow of blood from the placenta to the baby for another 1-3 minutes after birth.After that, at birth , the midwife will take care of the clamping, i.e. the ligation and cutting of the umbilical cord.

To do this, place plastic clamps on the umbilical cord about 3-4 cm away from the baby’s tummy. He will place another clamp on the other side of the umbilical cord, near the placenta. Then he will cut the cord: it will be cut between the two clamps, leaving a stump of about 2-3 cm on the baby’s tummy. From this, once healed, the navel will form.

There are no nerves in the cord, so its cut is totally painless for the baby.

The baby’s stump dries up, turns black, and falls off between 5 and 14 days after birth. It will take about 10 days for the belly button to fully heal. Until the belly button has completely healed, it is very important to keep the area clean and dry to prevent infection from developing. 

Symptoms of a belly button infection can consist of the following conditions.

  1. The base of the belly button that appears red or swollen.
  2. The navel that keeps bleeding.
  3. The navel oozing yellow or white pus.
  4. The navel that produces foul-smelling secretions.
  5. It seems that the child is in pain.

Infection of the umbilical cord stump can lead to omphalitis, a very dangerous and sometimes lethal infectious condition, which requires immediate treatment.

When to contact your doctor

You should contact your doctor when,

  • signs of an infection are noted in the navel;
  • the umbilical cord is bleeding: this usually occurs when the cord is removed prematurely.

Katherine Johnson, M.D., is a board-certified obstetrician-gynecologist with clinical expertise in general obstetrics and gynecology, family planning, women’s health, and gynecology.

She is affiliated with the Obstetrics and Gynecology division at an undisclosed healthcare institution and the online platform,

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