On taking birth, a baby leaves the protected environment of the mother’s womb and enters this new world where the baby is exposed to the numerous dynamic conditions which can be, beneficial as well as harmful for the baby. A newborn is quite fragile and susceptible to risk of catching infections or conditions which can adversely affect the health of the baby.
Parents and other family members have to be on their toes for the first few months following the birth of the baby to ensure that the baby is safe from all dangers and adversities. During this time, hygiene and care are critical to ensure that the baby is able to grow and develop a healthy body.
Newborns, due to their immature immune systems and delicate body, are prone to infections caused by bacteria and virus. Some infections can be treated easily while others can prove quite harmful for the child. Hence it is important that the parents should be aware of the signs and symptoms of infections and take precautionary measures to avoid them. One such infection is the infection of the umbilical cord, also known as Omphalitis. A bacteria Staphylococcus causes this infection. Babies who have poor health post their birth or have been delivered using invasive procedures are more prone to this infection.
Premature deliveries, birth of the child post the due date; cases where the placenta has been infected or umbilical catheters have been used also run the risk of catching this infection. Though this condition is not identified as fatal but carelessness and inability to recognize the symptoms of Omphalitis for long can prove serious for the health of the baby. With proper care and precautions during the Neonatal period, this infection can be treated.
How to Identify the Infection
Any redness or edema in the area surrounding the umbilical cord is the first symptom of infection and should not be ignored. Once the infection becomes severe, oozing of pus and, in some cases, blood due to infection in the blood vessels which prevent the blood from drying can be seen. Infection results in tenderness in the skin surrounding the umbilical cord. As a result, baby can get restless and may react if anyone touches the tender area.
Caring for Umbilical cord
Caring for umbilical cord is segregated into two phases- first includes caring for the cord immediately after the birth and secondly, caring for the cord once the baby is taken home.
Care during the Stay in the Hospital
These days new methods of obstetric care are followed which are safe and hygienic for the baby as well as the mother. Immediately after the delivery, the cord is clamped using a pair of clips or haemostats. One haemostat is placed near the abdomen of the baby and the cord is cut.
A newborn’s immune system is not fully developed. Hence this is the most critical time when the baby is prone to catching infections. Care needs to be taken to ensure that the umbilical stump that remains attached to the baby does not get infected for which antiseptic lotions are dabbed on the cord. Removing the clamps before the discharge of the baby from the hospital is recommended as the procedure is carried out in the guidance of expert medical practitioners.
Care after Discharge
Once the mother and the baby is discharged, the baby’s umbilical cord should be washed twice or thrice a day using alcohol. Alcohol will keep the area near the cut stump clean and sterilized and will also accelerate the process of drying of blood vessels. Once the stump has been washed, it should be dried using a sterilized cloth or by fanning the area. The stump should never be dried by rubbing. It is important to dry the area as wet stump as more chances of catching dirt and impurities. Parent should also take care of some other precautions. While putting on diapers, make sure that the ends of the diaper do not rub with the cut stump. If the diaper becomes wet, change it frequently as keeping on wet diapers can increase the chances of infection. Dry and clean diapers prevent the chances of infection and also help in drying the area quickly.
The stump should be allowed to fall off by itself. Parents should not try to detach the cord, not even if it is holding onto the body of the child through a single tissue. Pulling the cord by compulsion should be avoided in all cases. Till then the baby could be given sponge baths to avoid any harm to the cord. Once the stump falls, it is possible that dried blood can be seen on the base. It is natural for blood to appear once the stump falls of.
Do’s and Don’ts
Plastic clips are preferable for clamping the cord over metallic clips. Also the clips should be well sterilized before use. For applying antiseptic, soft balls of sterilized cotton should be used. It is advisable to apply antiseptic using a cotton swab as it absorbs more amount of antiseptic and makes the task of dabbing antiseptic lotion on the cord easier. Till the time the stump falls off naturally, precaution must be taken while holding the baby in the arms to avoid friction with the cord. Any rubbing of cord with the baby’s body or with the clothes of the parents can detach the cord. The cleaning of the cord should be done after using disinfectant to get rid of any impurities or dirt on the hands.
It is also advisable to take guidance from the gynaecologist about matters concerning the safety of the umbilical cord and other issues related to the health of the baby. Awareness amongst parents about infections and health problems and their subsequent symptoms can help them to take precautionary measures well in advance and protect their baby from serious health issues. Neonatal period is crucial for the health of the child and any carelessness during this period can prove harmful for the child.