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Can umbilical cord complications result in an injury to the infant?

Filed under: Birth Injuries

Most women experience normal, healthy pregnancies with few or no complications during delivery.  However, in order to prepare yourself for pregnancy be aware of your options, it is important to educate yourself as to possible complications and have an open and honest dialogue with your doctor.  It is understandable that you want to focus on the positives in having a baby especially because possible complications can be complex and scary, but educating yourself can remove the fear of the unknown.  Cord abnormalities and complications are one of the more common pregnancy complications.

Role of umbilical cord during pregnancy

The umbilical cord is the narrow tube that connects the baby to the placenta.  It carries blood, oxygen, and nutrients to the baby and removes the baby’s waste byproducts.  The average length of the umbilical cord is 22-24 inches and is helical in nature with an average of eleven helices.  It consists of one vein (carries oxygen and nutrients to the baby from the placenta) and two arteries (transport waste from the baby).  The umbilical cord is often referred to as the baby’s lifeline or supply line.

There are a variety of umbilical cord abnormalities that can affect the health of the fetus and cause complications during labor and delivery.  Possible abnormalities include:

  • Long or short cord length
  • Single umbilical artery
  • Cord knots (false and true)
  • Cord prolapse – cord enters vagina after water breaks but before baby descends into birth canal
  • Vasa previa – cord blood vessels cross the cervix under the baby, where they can tear when cervix dilates
  • Nuchal cord – cord wrapped around baby (usually the neck)
  • Cord cysts – outpockets or growths on the cord
  • Cord stricture – constriction or occlusion of the cord
  • Cord hematoma
  • Cord ulceration
  • Cord varix
  • Hemangiomas
  • Teratomas

Detecting umbilical cord complications

The specifics of many of these cord complications are discussed in depth in separate entries linked above.  It is important to remember that many cord complications can be detected during ultrasounds, which can help doctors troubleshoot and minimize complications.

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