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Cleaning the umbilical cord with water rather than alcohol shortened the time to separation with no change in colonisation

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Question Are there differences in time to cord separation and bacterial colonisation when using alcohol or water to clean the cord area in healthy newborn infants?


Randomised controlled trial.


A tertiary care hospital in Alberta, Canada.


148 newborn infants who were enrolled within 3 hours of birth. Gestational age was >36.7 weeks and all infants had an APGAR score of ≥7 at 5 minutes. Follow up was 92%.


Parents were shown a video on cord care that was developed for the study. Parents applied sterile water to the umbilical area using a 20 × 10 cm Kendall dressing or applied sterile alcohol using a Webcor antiseptic isopropyl alcohol pad. 65 infants in the water group and 71 infants in the alcohol group completed the study.

Main outcome measures

Time to separation of the cord, colonisation of the umbilical area, and umbilical cord infection. Colonisation was defined as the growth of bacterial organisms which included normal skin flora, coliforms, and mixed faecal flora as well as potential pathogens. An infection was defined as the presence of foul smelling exudate, pus cells, or a raised and reddened area of skin around the umbilicus. Swabs were taken for colonisation before the first bath, on day …

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  • Source of funding: Perinatal Research Centre of the University of Alberta.

  • For correspondence: Ms J M Medves, 5308 Long Island Road, Manotick, Ontario K4M 1E8, Canada. Fax +1 613 692 5038.