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  • Writer's pictureBrianne Stark

But Grandma Said Series, Part 1

It’s not uncommon for us, during home visits to new parents, to have questions whispered quietly as parents attempt to conceal their questioning from others in the room. This occurs when the others in the room happen to be the new grandparents. Well-meaning grandparents frequently assume baby care topics are the same as when they had their babies. This is usually not the case, as much research has been done in the last 20-30 years and recommendations have been changed in most baby care areas, including baby sleep, cord care and how warm to keep a baby, among others. New parents frequently find themselves in a position of uncertainty when their parents are telling them things they know they have heard differently from their healthcare providers. Here, we will deal with the updates to cord care that have changed since the current childbearing generation were babies.

When the current generation of new moms were babies, most of their parents were told to clean their baby’s umbilical cord with rubbing alcohol. This practice is no longer supported by current research. In a study conducted by Maria Dolores Lopez-Medina called Umbilical Cord Separation Time, Predictors and Healing Complications in Newborns with Dry Care, antiseptic use was actually correlated with a longer time until the umbilical cord detached from the baby’s body. The umbilical cord is colonized with bacteria from the mother from skin contact, from the birth canal and vaginal area during the process of vaginal birth, and bacteria from the hands of the birth assistant. Vaginal delivery is correlated with a shorter time to umbilical separation (compared to Cesarean) as the bacteria that colonizes the cord aids in its release from the body. Cord separation is mediated by leukocytes (a type of white blood cell which respond to bacterial presence in the body). Bacteria bring leukocytes and leukocytes speed the separation of the cord. Too much, or the wrong kind of bacteria, however, can cause infection. Umbilical cord care has great public health implications, especially in less industrialized countries. A quarter of the world’s neonatal deaths are due to infection, 75% being in the first week of life with the umbilical cord being the original source of infection. Proper cord care is important. The study we are referencing here found that average umbilical separation time was 6.61 days. Separation time predictors were wetting recurrence (faster detachment with less wetting), birth weight (smaller weight detaches faster), antibiotics during labor (delays separation time), birth season (spring/summer cords detach faster) and apgar greater than 9 (detach faster). The recommendation for cord care is to keep the cord clean and dry, clean the cord with soap and water if soiled, keep wetting the cord to a minimum (greater than 2 times/day wetness or daily bathing will delay cord separation), and avoid antiseptics (including rubbing alcohol). Keep in mind that mild redness does not indicate an infection and decaying tissue (which is what the umbilical cord is) can have a slightly unpleasant smell. Always check with a healthcare professional if you think your baby’s cord might be infected.

Now, when grandma tells you to use rubbing alcohol to clean your baby’s cord, you have new research to show her to the contrary!


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