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 vein.

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:

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 oxygen loss.

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.



This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. For additional health information, please contact the Center for Consumer Health Information at the Cleveland Clinic (216) 444-3771 or toll-free (800) 223-2273 extension 43771. If you prefer, you may visit or This document was last reviewed on: 7/24/2014