What is going on in my baby’s body?
The healing umbilical stump often oozes clear fluid. This liquid with a consistency like molasses is not at all of concern. When the body heals a wound, the area often fills with cells and fluid to minimize infection. The sometimes clear, sometimes straw-colored thickened fluid oozing from a healing belly button is normal.
A liquid with a strong odor that smells of urine (or a watery yellow liquid that looks like urine) or a liquid that has a pungent odor is not normal. These can be signs of structural problems or infections.
What can I do?
Some parents wipe the navel area daily with isopropyl alcohol. Alcohol is believed to dry out the area, causing the cord to fall out sooner and the skin to heal after the stump falls. However, there is no evidence that it works. In fact, alcohol can get trapped under the skin folds and slow down the healing process. Just patting the area with dry gauze is also likely to promote healing, as it helps keep the belly button area dry.
When should my doctor be called?
You are more likely to need your doctor after the umbilical stump has fallen. When attached to the baby, the stump usually protects the skin, preventing irritation like a scab protects a wound that heals. As soon as the stump falls off, some babies have scar tissue on their belly button that may ooze clear or yellow fluid or look like a crusted scab. This is called a granuloma. It can measure up to half an inch and have a smooth or irregular surface. Slowly healing granuloma can produce fluid long after the stump has fallen out and may need help to keep it from oozing out.
If any other fluid comes out of your belly button, especially fluid that looks or smells like urine, call your doctor. This rare circumstance can indicate a connection between the bladder and the skin called a fistula. Urinary leaks are different from normal leaks: they are yellow (instead of transparent), frequent and sometimes at high volume.
If the belly button gets into a fluid that looks like pus or has a pungent odor, or if the area becomes red and inflamed, it may be infected. It requires a doctor.
What tests should be done and what do the results mean?
If fluid is leaking from the belly button, testing should only be done if there is a risk of a fistula or severe infection. If there is a possibility of infection, further testing may be necessary.
What are the treatments?
The normal wetting of a belly button often dissolves on its own. If you have a granuloma, your doctor may apply a long, sterile Q-Tip silver nitrate to the belly button. Silver nitrate helps heal the granuloma and stop the oozing. The treated granuloma crusts and then heals.
If there is a fistula between the bladder and the navel, surgery is needed to sever the connection between the bladder and the skin. Additional tests are usually done to make sure the rest of the bladder and urinary tract are normal.
If there is an infection, antibiotics are usually used.
What are the potential complications?
The most common complication of a persistent belly button is a granular, and the most common complication of a granular is an infection. Whenever fluid collects inside or outside the body, bacteria can grow. This happens because the liquid forms an upright pool. When an infection occurs, two things need to be done: the infection needs to be treated (usually with antibiotics) and the source of the fluid needs to be treated. If the granular persists, the area may need to be drained or surgically removed.