The umbilical cord is the lifeline between you and your baby. It’s how your baby receives all the nutrients, oxygen and blood required for growth and development in the womb. You can think of it as a love-line, the way you are able to nurture your baby before she is even born.
What is the Umbilical Cord?
Averaging about 20 inches, the umbilical cord is connected on one end to the placenta and on the other to what will become your baby’s belly button. There are three blood vessels that run through the umbilical cord: one vein that carries nutrients, oxygen and blood to your baby and two arteries that carry carbon dioxide and other waste back into your body.
The umbilical cord is covered in a protective jelly and then surrounded by a membrane called amnion. Toward the end of pregnancy, antibodies from your body travel through the umbilical cord to your baby to help protect her for her first few months of life.
Once your baby is born, the umbilical cord is clamped about half an inch from your baby’s belly. The cord is then cut between mother and baby, ending the direct blood supply between you and your baby. Over the next two weeks, the cord will turn black and fall off completely, leaving an adorable belly button in its place. The belly button will heal completely within a few weeks. But caring for the stump and the freshly exposed belly button are an important part of newborn care.
Umbilical Cord Care
The key to umbilical cord stump care is keeping the area clean and dry. Most pediatricians recommend a sponge bath until the umbilical cord stump falls off. Afterwards you can fully submerge your baby’s abdomen. Clean the area with soap and water and dry it completely after getting it damp. Also, fold down diapers to avoid snagging fabric on the stump or introducing urine to the area. Call your pediatrician if there is pus, redness or swelling around the area before or after the stump falls off, or if you baby seems uncomfortable when you touch the area or has a fever.
Cord Blood Banking
Some families consider cord blood banking, which is a process of collecting and storing the blood from the umbilical cord for potential medical use. The umbilical cord contains stem cells that may be used to treat medical conditions and diseases. Stem cell intervention is being studied for such medical issues as blood disorders, cancers, autism, brain injuries, immune deficiencies and other life-saving or life-altering measures.
To extract cord blood, your doctor will stick a needle into the umbilical cord after it is clamped onto your baby but before it is cut from the placenta. Approximately 1 to 5 ounces of blood will be collected into a bag and then sent off to a cord blood bank to be tested, frozen and stored. The process does not hurt the baby or the mother. Cord blood banks charge a fee for storage, or you can donate the cord blood for medical research or use by others who may need it.
Many parents choose cord blood banking as a measure of caution for their child’s future. If a disease is attacking your child’s body, use of her own stem cells is best as she will not reject them. But if your child is producing mutated cells, which is the case in cancer or blood disorders, donor stem cells would be needed to overcome the genetic tendency of her own blood.
The umbilical cord is an amazing lifeline and love-line from mother to baby. You may never even notice anything but the leftover stump during the excitement of birth and as you receive your beautiful baby for the first time. But it’s a very necessary, powerful and miraculous way you’ve been able to nurture your baby for the past 9 months.