Even though belly button infections are becoming rarer with advancements in newborn care and better hygiene, it can turn into a serious problem if not treated in time. 
What Is Omphalitis, Or Belly Button Infection?
An infection of a newborn’s belly button, omphalitis or belly button infection usually occurs while the umbilical stump is still fresh after birth. It mostly affects newborns within the first few days of birth.
Symptoms such as redness or pus buildup are mostly visible within the first three to five days. In premature babies, the symptoms could show up anywhere between the first five to nine days.
What Can Cause Omphalitis In Newborns?
The most common cause of omphalitis in newborns is a bacterial infection caused by the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus, Streptococcus, and Escherichia coli. The infection can be caused by any one or a combination of all these bacteria. Sometimes, it is also caused by anaerobic bacteria. 
The umbilical cord is cut right after birth, which is when it gets exposed to bacteria, leading to omphalitis. In some cases, bacteria can also come into contact with the umbilical stump a few days later and cause an infection.
Babies who are born prematurely, or have a very low birth weight, are at a higher risk of contracting the infection, as are babies who are born with a genetic disorder or have a weak immune system. 
What Are The Symptoms Of Omphalitis In Newborns?
Even though it is categorized as a rare condition, omphalitis in a newborn can have serious health repercussions. Here are a few signs you should look out for.
- Any signs of inflammation near the area.
- Any discoloration near the umbilical stump in the first few weeks of birth.
- Swelling or a lump filled with pus or any other liquid.
- A reddish tint around the umbilical stump, which will darken if the infection progresses.
- A foul smell near the area, along with discharge from the umbilical stump.
- Fever, irritability, drowsiness.
- Bleeding around the stump area.
The above symptoms could suggest that the infection has just set in, or may have already progressed. If that is the case, then take your baby for an immediate examination to the nearest medical facility.
Treating Omphalitis In Newborns
Once you notice any of the above symptoms, your baby’s doctor will do a thorough examination, as a belly button can turn into a medical emergency if it spreads. Your baby may be admitted to the hospital for a few days as part of a routine observation and to start a course of antibiotics to stop the infection from spreading. In case the infection has already spread, doctors may suggest surgery, but this happens only in the rarest of rare cases. [4, 5,6]
How To Care For Your Newborn’s Belly Button At Home
Follow these basic tips to avoid any infections.
- Clean the belly button area with a soft washcloth dipped in a mild antiseptic solution. Pat dry immediately with a clean washcloth.
- Do not give your baby a proper water bath till the umbilical cord stump falls off. Use only the above method to keep it clean and dip the area in water only when the stump has fallen off and there are no signs of any swelling or redness.
- While putting on your baby’s diaper or nappy, tie it under the belly button area and make sure to change any wet or soiled diapers or nappies immediately, so that the wetness does not seep into the belly button area.
- Dress your baby in light, loose-fitting clothes that will not press down on the umbilical stump and will allow better air circulation, helping the area to dry up faster.
1. Neonatal Omphalitis: A Review of Its Serious Complications. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1651-2227.2006.tb02277.x/abstract (Accessed 27 Aug 2015)
2. Omphalitis: Background. http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/975422-overview (Accessed 27 Aug 2015)
3. Omphalitis Neonatorum. 1: Faridi MM, Rattan A, Ahmad SH. Omphalitis neonatorum. J Indian Med Assoc. 1993 Nov;91(11):283-5. PubMed PMID: 8138649. (Accessed on 27 Aug 2015)
4. [Guideline] Riley LE, Stark AR, eds. Guidelines for Perinatal Care. 7th ed. Elk Grove Village, IL, and Wash, DC: American Academy of Pediatrics and American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists; 2012. 302. (Accessed on 27 Aug 2015)
5. Karumbi J, Mulaku M, Aluvaala J, et al. Topical umbilical cord care for prevention of infection and neonatal mortality. Pediatr Infect Dis J. 2013 Jan. 32(1):78-83. (Accessed on 27 Aug 2015)
6. Kosloske AM, Bartow SA. Debridement of periumbilical necrotizing fasciitis: importance of excision of the umbilical vessels and urachal remnant. J Pediatr Surg. 1991 Jul. 26(7):808-10. (Accessed on 27 Aug 2015)