At the birth of your baby, usual NHS care is for the Midwife, sometimes with birth partner or Mum, to clamp and cut the cord, at the appropriate time for the individual Mum and Baby. A sterile, plastic umbilical cord clamp (like the one in the picture) is clipped on to the cord to ensure there is no bleeding from the baby; and, I wonder, if that helps to also keep infection out too, though I couldn't find any evidence in the literature for that.
The cord doesn't need any special care, just to be kept dry. If the cord were to get nappy contents on it, it could be cleaned with clean water and then patted dry with a soft clean towel. It's ok to bath your
baby while the cord is still there if you want to, as long as it's carefully patted dry afterwards. You can read some great bathing tips from NCT (plus the NHS bathing a baby video) here.
The idea is to allow the cord stump to dry out naturally so that it can fall off by itself around about 7 - 15 days after birth. There's a great NHS video that shows this process here.
Some cultures apply different ointments or preparations to the cord stump but research shows it is best if nothing is put on the cord stump and that parents monitor the cord to ensure it is staying clean and dry. Depending on the size of your baby and what nappies you're using, you may like to fold down the waistband of the nappy so there is less to cover the stump and that may help it to dry out at the right time. Some nappies have a dip in the waistband to try and avoid covering the umbilical cord but whether it's in the right place for your baby depends on their size.
It's important to immediately report any redness, oozing, bleeding or bad smell from the cord stump to your midwife straight away. It could be a sign of an infection and may need prompt treatment.
Occasionally babies have a bump at their tummy button that may be an umbilical hernia, where the internal part of the cord pushes through a small, weak spot in the muscle wall of the tummy. This often heals by itself but sometimes may need a procedure to close it. It should always be discussed with a Health Care Professional. You can read more about Umbilical Hernias here.
Some parents prefer to use a fabric cord tie because it's much softer and/or because they wish to avoid single use plastic. They would have to make or buy one. Cord ties are used in many parts of the world, especially where plastic cord clamps are not available. There is some debate about the use of fabric cord ties. Many parents in the UK who use them will boil them to sterilise them before use but some Health
Care Professionals have raised
concerns about the potential for infection if the cord tie gets wet after it's tied to the cord- it would be hard to dry the cord tie and they are concerned that this may slow the cord drying out or increase the chance of infection. However, there is very little research to say for sure. As with all baby care, it's
important for us as parents to do our research, listen carefully to professional opinions, and do what we feel is best for our babies.
If we, as parents, would like to do something in birth or baby care that is not usual NHS protocol, it can be very helpful to discuss options with your Head of Midwifery at your maternity unit (contact details are usually on the Unit's website) and/or contact an Independent Midwife near you, perhaps through the website IMUK. They will usually be familiar with what you're asking about and can help you explore the options and reach the right conclusion for you.
Interested to hear what happens to Mum's belly button during pregnancy? Have a look at this article from Mom loves best. It's a U.S. site, so remember that aspects of care may be different in the UK; always check with your midwife.