Whilst a baby is in the womb, the Umbilical Cord carries the oxygen and nutrients from the placenta to your baby. The average cord length is 50 centimetres (20 inches) and about 2 centimetres in diameter (0.75 inches) and it connects the baby to the mother from an opening in the baby’s stomach to the placenta.
The cord is made up of one vein and two arteries. These allow the blood to circulate through the cord. The vein carries the blood with new oxygen and nutrients in it to the baby and the arteries carry the waste products and carbon dioxide back to the placenta so that your body can dispose of them. In rare cases it is possible for the umbilical cord to only have one artery, this may cause slow development but it may also have no effect at all.
The umbilical cord is covered in a sticky jelly known as Wharton’s jelly to protect it and then it is covered by a layer of membrane which is called the amnion.
After your baby has been born
Once your baby has been born, he will no longer need to breathe or feed through the umbilical cord. Your baby’s umbilical cord will becut and clamped by your midwife or in some cases by your birthing partner under the midwife’s supervision. Your baby will not feel the cord being cut or clamped, it is a painless procedure for him, like having your hair cut. Your baby will have a 2 or 3 centimetre stump where the cord used to be joined to his tummy. Your midwife will put a plastic clamp on the stump immediately after birth. She may remove this stump once it is dry or she may leave it on.
It is important that you keep this stump clean. The stump will dry out, seal, shrivel up, turn black and then fall off naturally, usually within a week and sometimes as quickly as 24 hours. You must never try to pull the stump away from your baby’s skin. The stump may leave a red patch but this will heal (usually within 15 days) and eventually become your baby’s tummy button.
You will need to take care of your baby’s stump as it can easily become infected. When you bathe or ‘top and tail’ your baby, gently wash your baby’s stump with either plain warm water or a mild baby soap, afterwards be careful to ensure you fully dry the stump and the area around it by gently patting it with a soft towel. As always, make sure that you have clean hands before handling your baby’s stump or changing your baby’s nappy.
When changing your baby’s nappy, it is sensible to fold down the waistband of the nappy so that the stump sits above the nappy, this will help air get to the stump which helps it to heal and it also stop the stump from getting any wee or poo on it.
If you think that your baby’s stump may be infected, ask your midwife or health visitor to check for you. During this time you should still be getting regular visits and they will not mind checking for you. However, if you have been signed off and no longer receive home visits, take your baby to your nearest clinic for advice.
by Jenny, mum to William and James