Umbilical Cord Prolapse
What is the umbilical cord?
The umbilical cord is a flexible, tube-like structure that, during pregnancy,
connects the fetus to the mother. The umbilical cord is the baby’s lifeline to
the mother. It transports nutrients to the baby and also carries away the baby’s
waste products. It is made up of three blood vessels – two arteries and one
What is umbilical cord prolapse?
Umbilical cord prolapse is a complication that occurs prior to or during
delivery of the baby. In a prolapse, the umbilical cord drops (prolapses)
through the open cervix into the vagina ahead of the baby. The cord can then
become trapped against the baby’s body during delivery. Umbilical cord prolapse
occurs in approximately one in every 300 births.
What causes an umbilical cord prolapse?
The most common cause of an umbilical cord prolapse is a premature rupture of
the membranes that contain the amniotic fluid. Other causes include:
- Premature delivery of the baby
- Delivering more than one baby per pregnancy (twins, triplets, etc.)
- Excessive amniotic fluid
- Breech delivery (the baby comes through the birth canal feet first)
- An umbilical cord that is longer than usual
What are the consequences of umbilical cord prolapse?
An umbilical cord prolapse presents a great danger to the fetus. During the
delivery, the fetus can put stress on the cord. This can result in a loss of
oxygen to the fetus, and may even result in a stillbirth.
How is an umbilical cord prolapse detected?
The doctor can diagnose a prolapsed umbilical cord in several ways. During
delivery, the doctor will use a fetal heart monitor to measure the baby’s heart
rate. If the umbilical cord has prolapsed, the baby may have bradycardia (a
heart rate of less than 120 beats per minute). The doctor can also conduct a
pelvic examination and may see the prolapsed cord, or palpate (feel) the cord
with his or her fingers.
How is an umbilical cord prolapse managed?
Because of the risk of lack of oxygen to the fetus, an umbilical cord
prolapse must be dealt with immediately. If the doctor finds a prolapsed cord,
he or she can move the fetus away from the cord in order to reduce the risk of
In some cases, the baby will have to be delivered immediately by cesarean
section. If the problem with the prolapsed cord can be solved immediately, there
may be no permanent injury. However, the longer the delay, the greater the
chance of problems (such as brain damage or death) for the baby.
© Copyright 1995-2013 The Cleveland Clinic Foundation. All rights reserved