Omphalitis or Belly-Button Infection in Newborns: Symptoms and Treatment
6 mins read
Health & Safety for New Born
Omphalitis is an infection in a baby’s belly button. Though an umbilical infection can be treated with medicines, it’s vital to spot the early signs and symptoms and prevent it from becoming a serious infection.
Omphalitis is commonly known as belly-button infection. Though it is relatively rare, every 2-5 infants in a hundred may suffer from this painful infection after birth. It can even become a medical emergency and lead to hospitalisation for a few days. Since babies have a weak immune system, they are quite susceptible to postnatal infections.
Thanks to rapidly advancing medical science and health care, babies are administered anti-infection remedies right after birth in order to protect them against various infections. However, as some babies may still suffer from Omphalitis, it is important for you, as a new parent, to have an idea of what type of infection it is and whether your baby could be at risk.
What is Omphalitis and Could Your Baby be at Risk?
The major cause of Omphalitis is exposure to bacteria like tetanus, strep and staph. This happens mainly during delivery while the doctor incises the umbilical cord. This infection mainly targets newborns, whose immunity powers are considerably low. It may attack a baby a few days after the delivery. Unfortunately, it may not be seen from outside during the neonatal days. Some common signs of infection like redness and pus, three to five days after birth, make this infection prominent.
Research on Omphalitis reveals that premature and underweight babies have a greater risk of this infection. These babies have a relatively weaker immune system and easily fall prey to such post-birth infections.
Did You Know: Bacterial infections account for approximately 700,000 neonatal deaths each year!
The incidence of omphalitis has gone down in recent years due to expert medical care during and after delivery. However, it remains a dangerous infection that affects some babies. According to figures shared by Dr. Dan Stewart from the Department of paediatrics at the University of Louisville, bacterial infections make up about one-quarter of the 3 million neonatal deaths that occur worldwide every year. Parents must be very careful in preventing and spotting the signs of Omphalitis since the umbilical cord is an entry portal for pathogenic bacteria. If untreated, this infection can even become fatal.
Symptoms of Omphalitis
A belly button is a conspicuous body part, it would be hard to not notice if something were wrong with it. Nevertheless, here are some common symptoms of omphalitis.
General discolouration around the umbilical cord, which may make the baby uncomfortable. This usually occurs within the first few days of birth
Inflamed belly button
Pus or a fluid-filled lump around the umbilical area that leads to a reddish stump which darkens as the case gets worse
The little one suffers from extreme fever
There is abdominal swelling that can cause discomfort
The infected baby belly button discharges a foul-smelling liquid
There is bleeding around the stump
Baby feels irritated and suffers from lethargy
The activity of baby reduces a lot; you often find it hard to feed him as he is always uncomfortable
How to Prevent Omphalitis
Here are the best preventive measures to protect your baby from infant belly button infection:
Breastfeed: Breast milk has antibodies that can protect your baby from various diseases including omphalitis. It also protects against diarrhoea and hypothermia. According to a survey conducted by Medela India during the National Nutrition Week 2017, the "first feed post birth acts as a shield against a host of fatal diseases and impacts the intelligence of the child positively"
Umbilical Cord Hygiene: You need to keep the area around the cord clean and dry using a swab/soft gauze. The World Health Organization recommend the "dry method" of umbilical cord care. The dry method means avoiding using any ointments or lotions and leaving the area exposed to air
No Tub Baths: Try to avoid tub baths for your baby till the stump falls off. This will keep the area dry and reduce the chances of infection
Watch: The Right Approach to Newborn Belly Button Care
Your baby's belly button needs extremely gentle care in the first few days after birth.
To prevent omphalitis, keep the area clean and avoid covering it with diapers, shirts, etc.
If the belly button looks unclean or infected, discuss with your doctor and use a Q-tip dipped in rubbing alcohol to gently clean it.
Treatment of Belly-Button Infection
In case you observe any signs of infection in your baby's belly button, ensure you seek treatment of Omphalitis without delay. If delayed, this infection may bring forth other medical emergencies. Therefore, you should not delay consulting a physician when you observe any of the above symptoms in your child.
Your doctor may prescribe antibiotics or other medicines and even surgical intervention when normal medicines do not work. If the infection is serious, the baby may need to be hospitalised for further treatment.
While medication is a major part of treating omphalitis - or any kind of infection or disease for that matter - there are peripheral things you need to take care of too, to speed-up recovery. Here are a few tips in that direction.
Keep the area clean: Make sure to clean the area that joins the umbilical cord to the baby’s skin. Clean the umbilical stump at least one to three times in a day.
Use an alcohol swab if advised by the paediatrician: You can use an alcohol swab and then dry the area after cleaning. However, please do this only after consulting your paediatrician as some experts are of the opinion that rubbing alcohol can delay healing. Also, applying the wrong solution/lotion for belly button cleaning can have side effects on your baby's skin.
Keep the area exposed: Avoid covering the stump area with a baby diaper. Do not keep any buttons, bandages, adhesives, etc., in this area.
If your home care is not working fine or the medication is not working properly, make sure you seek expert help immediately. Newborn belly button infection can become serious very quickly and needs to be treated as soon as possible.