Saturday, 16 September 2017

Caring for a newborn's umbilical cord stump

It is not unusual in Nigeria to learn of different unorthodox and potentially risky ways of caring for the umbilical cord stump in newborns. One often hears of, and sees cases where toothpaste, powder, cow dung, peppery soup and so on are used (some newborn babies really suffer) all in a bid to get the stump to fall off fast. Using these items has a the potential of exposing your newborn to infection. And infection of the umbilical stump can be fatal. Why give that chance if it can be avoided?

Caring for your newborn's umbilical stump need not be a hectic process, in fact when handled well, it is a simple and straight forward process. Written below are the only things you need to do to care for the stump and watch it fall without any problems to your newborn and stress on your part.

  1. The World Health Organization  (WHO) recommends dry cord care; as in applying absolutely nothing on the stump but ensuring the area is kept dry at all times.  In regions of the world with high neonatal mortality rates (which Nigeria may be included), the WHO recommends  the use of chlorhexidine on the areas around the cord stump. Chlorhexidine can be bought over-the-counter in drug stores. Most times, just ensuring the site is kept clean and dry is care enough. Some pediatricians recommend the use of methylated spirit on the stump while others believe it makes the cord stay longer before falling off. Either chlorhexidne or methylated spirit can used to clean the areas of the skin surrounding the stump to kill any microbes that could be in close proximity. Getting your doctor or midwife's opinion could be the safest option. Keep your baby's diaper away from the umbilical stump, it is advisable you place the diaper below the belly button and ensure you change dirty diapers promptly to prevent leakage of urine or stool towards the stump which could infect it. 
  2. Do not be in a hurry to make the stump fall. Some babies have theirs on well past 10 days. Avoid quick fix procedures. No adult walks around with an umbilical cord  which means your newborn's own must eventually fall off. Some of those quick fix procedures can expose your baby to Omphalitis which can be fatal.
  3. When the cord falls off, care is still needed to prevent infection. There is a common practice in some parts of Nigeria to dab hot water on the navel at this stage, propagating a  myth that dabbing the navel with hot water reduces infant gas. This is a very risky and completely unnecessary procedure. It has been known to expose some newborns to life-threatening infections. Simply bath your baby as normal and ensure the area is kept clean. At this stage of your baby's life, it's immune system is fragile so you should not allow everyone  handle your baby especially when naked. It's advised you ensure people wash their hands before handling your baby. No matter how they may perceive it, it's your baby and your duty is to protect him/her.
  4. If at any point the stump starts to smell bad, bleed , or the area looks reddish and your newborn is in pain, waste no time in taking your newborn to the hospital as that could be an infection of the cord stump which can be fatal. 

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