THERE ARE MANY practices in our country (and perhaps around the world, too) to ‘fix’ various things about a baby―the head, the fontanels, nose, hair and what not! This column focuses on those carried out to shape a baby’s belly button. Belly buttons are commonly classified as an ‘outie’ or ‘innie’, depending on whether they are protruding or sunken. The shape that a belly button assumes is governed by where (on the baby’s abdominal wall) and how (the angle at which) the umbilical cord attaches to the foetus, how well the hole made by the cord to enter the abdominal wall of the baby closes and muscle tone in the abdominal region that determines how fast and how efficiently the hole closes.
So protruding navels are normal though not as common as sunken ones. They cannot be corrected by pressing them with a coin or any other method. In fact, soon after the umbilical stump falls, which is when the closure and sinking in of the belly button begins, lots of airing is advised. Until recently, a cotton swab dipped in alcohol was advised to clean a healing belly button. Now more members of the medical community are pushing for a natural healing process, even when the navel is wet with a pale yellow or transparent discharge.
Sometimes, you might find your baby’s navel protruding more than usual. This might be particularly evident when your baby coughs, cries or struggles for bowel movement. Get it evaluated by the doctor for it might be a case of umbilical hernia―a very common condition.
Umbilical hernia occurs when the opening made by the cord to go through the abdominal wall doesn’t close properly at birth or remains open even after. This opening becomes a weak spot in the abdominal wall allowing a tissue or part of the intestine to jut out. Most doctors wait till the baby’s first birthday or even longer (up to four years) for the abdominal muscles to do their job of closing the opening before choosing to perform a surgery.
In the past, such conditions were treated by pressing something hard against the protrusion or binding the navel with a strip of cloth around the waist. These methods do not work and may prevent it from sliding back into the abdomen. This could cause pain in the abdomen. Pain in the area can also be caused if blood supply to the trapped section of the tissue or intestine reduces owing to all the binding. If the blood supply is completely cut off, it can even lead to the death of the tissue (gangrene).
If you are doubtful about the protrusion or swelling around your baby’s navel, have it evaluated by an expert and stay clear of binding or applying any pressure to it.
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● Do not give your baby tub baths or immerse her lower body in water until the stump falls and the belly button heals completely.
● While using a diaper or nappy, make sure that you strap or tie it below the belly button so that it is allowed to breathe. You get special diapers for newborns with an opening for the belly button.