Inflammation of the navel - symptoms, causes and therapy

Inflammation of the navel - symptoms, causes and therapy

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Umbilical inflammation

A Inflammation of the navel, in the medicine Omphalitis called, occurs especially in infants in the first weeks of life. Fortunately, due to the umbilical hygiene used today, such an infection is becoming increasingly rare. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), umbilical infections are a common reason for newborn mortality worldwide, but the frequency and mortality rate of omphalitis in the industrialized countries is very low. It is estimated that 0.2 to 0.7 percent of all newborns are affected. Premature babies and sick children are more susceptible.

Inflammation of the navel causes

The causes in babies are mostly bacteria that trigger this infection in the first days after birth. Because the umbilical stump is still an open wound in the first weeks of life, into which pathogens can penetrate relatively easily. After birth, the umbilical cord is cut and the remaining umbilical stump is clamped. The future belly button has to heal, which takes a few weeks. During this time, pathogens can get into the open wound, which then trigger inflammation of the belly button. The most frequently responsible bacterium is Staphylococcus aureus, although mixed infections with different bacteria can also occur. Although these pathogens are usually rather harmless, newborns are still vulnerable with their immature immune systems. The infant comes into the world from a relatively germ-free environment and is confronted with a wide variety of pathogens. The immune system may not be able to fight them off.

Risk factors are low birth weight, existing infections or poor general condition. Long births or a placenta infection are also known risk factors. If the newborn is given an umbilical cord catheter as part of neonatal treatment, this can also trigger an inflammation of the belly button.

Abdominal inflammation symptoms

The symptoms are redness, swelling, warmth, bulging of the navel with possibly bloody and / or purulent discharge. This infection should be treated as soon as possible as it can develop into a life-threatening condition. If the inflammation has already progressed, there is a fever, hypotension (low blood pressure), an accelerated heartbeat (rapid heart rate) and apathy.


The complications can arise if the pathogens spread in the organism. Possible consequences are peritonitis (inflammation of the peritoneum), endocarditis (inflammation of the inner lining of the heart), liver abscesses or blood poisoning (sepsis). Complications such as abscesses or necrosis are also possible in the area of ​​the navel.

Abdominal inflammation treatment

The inflammation of the navel in babies is treated as soon as possible with a suitable antibiotic. In mild cases, topical application can take place, otherwise a hospital stay may be necessary where the antibiotic is given by infusion. The infant can be monitored here and any complications can be identified and treated early. If abscesses or necroses in the area of ​​the navel are added, surgical interventions are usually necessary to remove the affected tissue.


Prevention is important so that there is no inflammation of the navel in newborns. A hygienic but relaxed handling of the baby's fresh navel is usually sufficient these days. In the past, powders and disinfectants were generally used for navel care, which is no longer the case today. Bathing in the first weeks of life is no longer strictly rejected. However, the navel should absolutely be kept dry and clean and above all free of urine and stool. Turning the diaper below the navel helps. If contaminated, remove them with boiled water, alcohol, diluted calendula essence and sterile compresses. After cleaning, the navel should be carefully patted dry. In no case incrustations can be removed by force because injuries can occur.

Umbilical care

The baby's umbilical cord stump dries out and eventually falls off on its own. This usually happens within one to three weeks after birth. In the meantime, the area should be treated gently. The following procedure is recommended by doctors:

  • Keep the stump dry: In the past, parents were advised to dab the stump with alcohol after each diaper change. Most researchers now believe that this could kill bacteria that help dry and separate the umbilical cord. Instead, expose the stump to air to let it dry.
  • The diaper should not cover the stump.
  • Use sponge baths instead of full baths to clean the baby. This helps keep the navel stump dry until it falls off.
  • Let the stump fall off by itself. It should not be removed or rewound on it yourself.
  • During the healing process, it is normal for a little blood to be seen on the navel. Similar to scab, the umbilical stump may bleed a little if it falls.

When to the doctor?

If you suspect omphalitis, do not wait long, but see a pediatrician immediately. Better too much than too little. Such inflammation is not to be taken lightly. Sometimes an external antiseptic treatment is enough to get the infection under control. In order to rule out complications, quick action is essential.

The more pronounced the inflammation, the more intensive the treatment. If the infection has spread, a hospital stay can usually not be avoided. Here an antibiotic is administered intravenously and the vital functions such as breathing and blood pressure are monitored, since spreading the pathogens in the body can have life-threatening consequences. If necessary, artificial ventilation takes place. However, due to the umbilical hygiene used today, inflammation of the navel is relatively rare and such serious illnesses that require monitoring in the hospital are rather unlikely exceptions. (sw)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.


  • Dr Prakash Manikoth, Mariam George, Avirat Vaishnav, u.a .: Omphalitis, The Lancet, 2014, thelancet.com
  • Swiss Association of Midwives (SHV): Guideline navel care for newborns, as of February 2014, hebamme.ch
  • World Health Organization: WHO Recommendations on Newborn Health, May 2017, who.int
  • Gary D. Overturf: Infectious Diseases of the Fetus and Newborn (7th edition), 2011, sciencedirect.com
  • Mayo Clinic. Umbilical cord care: Do's and don'ts for parents (accessed: August 21, 2019), mayoclinic.org

ICD codes for this disease: P38ICD codes are internationally valid encodings for medical diagnoses. You can find yourself e.g. in doctor's letters or on disability certificates.

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