It’s funny how I never thought much about my belly button until becoming a mom. I didn't pay much attention to it and hardly considered it a sentimental body part. The only time I even thought about my belly button was in high school and college when friends would randomly ask if I had an “innie” or “outie” and I would proudly respond “innie” As though I could somehow take credit for having the perfect bikini ready navel. Of course I always knew the science behind a belly button, I knew it was a scar marking the spot where the umbilical cord was once attached but I hardly ever thought of it that way. For me it was more of beauty mark, the perfect fashion accessory to a flat belly and 1990’s crop top.
Once I started shopping for baby items during my pregnancy I kept reading brief references to the healing period for the baby’s belly button. For instance when I was buying diapers I saw all the comments that the best newborn diapers had a dip in the front to accommodate the healing belly button. When I was shopping for an infant bath tub, again there were reminders to only give the baby a full bath in water after the belly button had fully healed. I looked up how long it usually takes for a belly button to heal, and the standard response seemed to be 7-10 days which seemed pretty okay to me. I didn't bother doing any more reading on that subject because it seemed pretty straight forward.
Once my baby was born I realized several things. I was severely under-informed about the entire belly button healing process. For one thing I found that the term “belly button healing” didn't paint an honest picture of the whole story. This term conned me into thinking that my baby would be coming home with a nice and neat innie belly button that just needed a few days to heal. False! I guess this was another biology class that I should have paid more attention to. What really happens is, soon after the baby is born, the cord is clamped using a plastic clip and then cut. This is done in such a way that there is still a short 2 to 3 inch piece of the cord attached to the baby’s belly, which is supposed to heal on its own by drying up and falling off.
My daughter and I were discharged from the hospital three days after she was born, the plastic clamp was removed and the cord had dried and shriveled up into a hard stump. We were told to keep it dry and to clean around it daily with an alcohol wipe. They promised me it would dry up and fall off within a week or so. They cautioned me to avoid pulling it off even if it appeared to be falling off. They made it clear it had to fall off on its own accord otherwise there could be a whole host of complications. I was really nervous about this. What if I did something wrong and her belly button didn't heal right! A few days later we had our first visit to the pediatrician and she told me not to use the alcohol wipes given to me by the hospital. She explained that using the wipes was an old fashioned way of doing it and that it could cause delays in the healing process because it made the area sterile and slowed down the natural drying process. I felt confused! To use alcohol wipes or not to? Why would the doctor and hospital give me conflicting information? Then about a week later I noticed it seemed her belly button was oozing. I could tell this because I could see little spots and streaks on her inside of her clothing that was right over her belly button area. I was freaked out. I called the doctor and she told me it was normal and that I could wipe it with alcohol. I was even more confused, I thought this very same doctor told me I wasn't supposed to use the alcohol wipes!
At her 1 week checkup the umbilical cord stump was still hanging on tight.
At her 2 week checkup the umbilical cord stump was still hanging on tight.
At her 3 week checkup my daughter still had her umbilical cord stump firmly attached! And it showed no signs of coming off. Ever.
I was really anxious about this. Why was everyone telling me it falls off in 10 days or less when my daughter was 21 days old and still had that stump firmly attached. Meanwhile during this time I couldn't give her a proper bath for fear of getting it wet, nor could I start using the bum genius cloth diapers I was eager to try out. Not to mention the fact that it was still randomly oozing indescribable stickiness. At her 3 week check up, her pediatrician told me she was going to have to cauterize her belly button. I calmly said okay because I didn't know what it meant. She then proceeded to use some sort of angled wooden stick with a silver nitrate tip to gently dig in and lift up the edges of the stump. I was horrified! My poor baby screamed her little head off. I felt terrible and I wondered for a moment why the doctor would put my daughter through that, and if she even knew what the heck she was doing. However once we got home my daughter calmed down and her umbilical cord stump definitely showed signs of improvement in terms of detaching. The very next day when I went to change her diaper I realized the stump had come off! All by itself! My husband and I were so happy it was like we had won the lottery, we were yelling and high five-ing. Then we calmed down and examined it closely as if we were inspecting some type of rare diamond and then immediately decided to throw it out. I know people save the stump for sentimental reasons, but for us saving that piece of dried cord just felt odd. It had stuck around for 3 long weeks and I never wanted to see it again.
Everyone had made me believe that once the stump fell off life would be golden again, but not quite. Once the stump fell off her belly button still wasn't healed yet. It wasn't immediately recognizable as a belly button, it was just a tiny circle of moist ooey gooey stickiness. It was white and sticky and just plain weird. I called her pediatrician and she told me it was totally normal and would heal on its own soon. It took another week to finally start looking and feeling like a normal belly button. Overall it took more than a month from the day she was born for her to have a healed belly button and now thanks to the Where is Baby’s Belly button book she loves poking her belly button and laughing uncontrollably. Each time she does this I laugh to myself and think "girl, you have no idea what went into the making of this belly button"