Insertion of an umbilical catheter is the placement of a tube into the arteries or vein of the umbilical stump.
During pregnancy the umbilical cord is an important part of your baby’s blood flow system. Once your child is born the cord is no longer needed but the blood vessels remain for a few weeks.
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The umbilical stump may be used to deliver treatment or take blood samples in newborns. In newborns, the umbilical cord may be a much easier access point than blood vessels in other parts of the body. This is particularly true for premature babies. The umbilical cord is also painless which can make it easier for the baby.
A catheter may be used to: Remove blood for testingMonitor blood pressureDeliver nutrients or medicationDeliver or exchange blood
Regular access to the blood with a catheter will cut down on the number of needle sticks your baby will have. It is also available to treat emergency situations.
All procedures have some risk. The doctor will review potential problems, such as: Excess bleedingInfection in the bloodBlood clotsBlockage of blood flow to internal organs or legs
Problems in the intestine such as
—if blood flow to intestines is blocked
Misplacement of catheterStrokePulmonary embolism
—blood clot in lung
Talk to your child’s doctor about these risks before the procedure.
Certain measurements will be taken. This will help to determine how far the catheter is passed into the blood vessels. Your child may also be placed on monitors to measure breathing and heart activity.
Anesthesia may not be needed. The umbilical stump does not have pain nerves. Your child will not feel the work on the umbilical stump.
Your baby’s stomach and umbilical cord will be cleaned with an antiseptic. The top portion of the stump will have a clamp that was placed right after birth. A cloth will be tied below the clamp, closer to the stomach. The umbilical stump will then be removed just above the tie. The catheter will be inserted into the artery or vein of the stump. A gentle pressure will be used to pass the catheter into the desired locations.
An x-ray will be done to make sure the catheter is in the right place. The x-ray will also show if there are any immediate complications. Once the placement is confirmed, the catheter will be secured in place with sutures. The umbilical stump may also be taped to the belly make it more secure.
Your baby will be monitored for the development of any complications. This includes watching the legs for any change in color and monitoring breathing and heart rate.
The procedure may take 15-30 minutes
Your baby cannot feel pain through the umbilical cord. However, your baby will be monitored for any distress. Medication will be given to ease discomfort.
The length of time that the catheter remains in will depend on your child’s condition. The hospital stay will also be determined by your child’s overall health.
Your child’s care staff will take steps to prevent infection in the catheter. Steps should include: Washing hands and wearing gloves before touching the catheter.Cleaning the catheter area with an anesthetic.Keeping an eye out for signs of infection.Removing catheter as soon as possible.
Treatment will be delivered through the catheter as needed.
The catheter will likely be removed before your child goes home. There are no special steps that need to be taken once the catheter is removed.
Call your child’s doctor if any of these occur: Signs of infection—fever and chills, redness or swelling at the umbilical areaPain in the umbilical areaPus around the stump
If you think you have an emergency, call for medical help right away.
Insertion of umbilical vessel catheters. University of Iowa Children’s Hospital website. Available at:
http://www.uichildrens.org/childrens-content.aspx?id=234448. Accessed August 12, 2014.
Intensive care nursery glossary. University of California San Francisco Benioff Children's Hospital website. Available at:
http://www.ucsfbenioffchildrens.org/education/intensive_care_nursery_glossary/index.html. Accessed August 12, 2014.
Neonatal vascular access. PEMSoft at EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Accessed August 12, 2014.
Last reviewed August 2014 by Kari Kassir, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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