Why is Umbilical Cord Compression a Concern for the Fetus?

fetal monitoringUmbilical cord compression prevents the flow of blood and nutrients to the fetus, which makes the fetal heart rate drop and can have potential temporary and permanent impacts on the baby’s health.

What is Umbilical Cord Compression?

Umbilical cord compression occurs when the umbilical cord goes through stretching or applied pressure during the labor process. The compression leads to an interruption of the blood and nutrient flow to the fetus, followed by a heart rate decrease. Cord compression occurs in around one out of 10 deliveries and often resolves during childbirth. However, some cases of compression can lead to a deteriorating heart rate, low pH in fetal blood, and other conditions that could make a cesarean necessary.

What Causes Umbilical Cord Compression?

Cord compression is any kind of pressure inflicted on the cord. The source of his damage varies, from unusual fetal positions to hyperactivity of the baby. Another cause of compression is the preterm premature rupture of membranes (PROM). PROM is a uterus membrane break that occurs before labor and leads to cord compression in between 32% and 76% of pregnancies.

What are the Consequences of Umbilical Cord Compression?

In addition to the obstruction of blood flow and heart rate decrease, umbilical cord compression increases the level of carbon dioxide in the fetus’s blood, creating a breathing condition known as respiratory acidosis, which happens when the blood can’t clear the carbon dioxide the body produces. This can lead to respiratory failure.

Cord compression can also lead to hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy, a brain injury that results from a lack of oxygen in the infant during childbirth. This injury has short and long-term consequences for the child as he or she grows older.

The short-term impacts of oxygen deprivation that act as early diagnosis signs include:

  • Breathing issues
  • Immediate seizures
  • Irregular muscle tone
  • Lowered reflexes

The long-term impacts of oxygen deprivation include:

  • Seizures
  • Intellectual and developmental disabilities
  • Orthopedic conditions
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Constant pain
  • Intracranial hemorrhages
  • Persistent pain
How are Umbilical Cord Compressions Diagnosed?

A health care professional can detect a compressed umbilical cord through methods such as auscultation, electronic fetal monitoring, and ultrasound. These methods use soundwaves, Doppler transducers, and other resources to create images of the compressed cord or detect abnormal heart rates and other anomalies caused by compression.

How are Umbilical Cord Compressions Treated?

The mother can easily solve minor cases of umbilical cord compressions by switching positions. Amnioinfusion, the implementation of a saline solution into the uterus during labor, also relieves pressure that compresses the umbilical cord. Doctors can also increase the mother’s oxygen level to improve the cord’s blood flow.

Severe umbilical cord compression cases where the baby’s heart rate drops or shows natal distress will need a cesarean section.

What is Nuchal Cord?

Nuchal cord is another type of umbilical cord complication that occurs when the cord wraps about the baby’s neck. Just as with umbilical cord compressions, nuchal cord cuts the blood and oxygen flow. However, the additional threat comes from the cord potentially strangling the baby. The signs, consequences, and treatments of nuchal cord in the infant resemble those of a compressed cord.

Despite the potential dangers of nuchal cords, they occur in 20% to 30% of all pregnancies and most of the time they resolve themselves.

What is Umbilical Cord Prolapse?

Umbilical cord prolapse is a cord complication like compression. Prolapse occurs during labor when the cord descends into the birth canal before or alongside the baby. This situation applies pressure to the cord that compromises the blood and oxygen flow to the newborn. Prolapses have the same health risks, impacts, and treatments as compressions.