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Umbilical Cord Prolapse

Pronounced: um-BILL-ick-ul cord PRO-lapse


The umbilical cord connects the fetus to the placenta, an organ that provides nutrition. Umbilical cord prolapse occurs when the umbilical cord passes through the birth canal and into the vagina in front of the baby's head. It occurs after the membranes have ruptured.

As the baby passes through the birth canal during labor, it puts pressure on the umbilical cord. This compression of the umbilical cord decreases or can completely cut off blood flow and oxygen to the baby.

Umbilical cord prolapse is a dangerous condition that can cause stillbirth unless the baby is delivered quickly, usually by cesarean section (C-section). Most babies delivered quickly through cesarean section do not suffer from complications caused by this condition.

Umbilical Cord Prolapse

Prolapsed Umbilical cord
Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

Causes    TOP

Umbilical cord prolapse is cause by the umbilical cord coming out of the uterus before the baby's head.

Risk Factors    TOP

Factors that increase your chance of getting umbilical cord prolapse include:

  • Having a baby that is in the breech position
  • Premature rupturing of the membranes
  • Having multiple births in one pregnancy
  • Having an unusually long umbilical cord
  • Having too much amniotic fluid around the fetus
  • Artificial rupture of membranes

Symptoms    TOP

Seeing or feeling the umbilical cord in the vagina before the baby's delivery is a symptom of umbilical cord prolapse.

Diagnosis    TOP

The diagnosis is made when a pelvic examination is done to see and feel the umbilical cord present in the vagina in front of the baby's head.

Treatment    TOP

Treatment options include:

  • Delivery by C-section—If the baby cannot be quickly delivered vaginally.
  • Removing pressure from the cord—In some cases, the doctor may be able to move the baby away from the cord so as not to cut off oxygen supply to the baby. The mother may also be asked to move into a position that removes pressure from the cord and protects the baby.
  • Rapid delivery—If the mother is ready to deliver, the doctor may try to deliver the baby very quickly using forceps or a vacuum extractor.

Cesarean Delivery

Cesarean Delivery
Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

Prevention    TOP

There are no current guidelines to prevent umbilical cord prolapse.


The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
American Pregnancy Association


The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada


Catanzarite VA. The two-vessel cord: how concerned should we be? Contemporary Ob/Gyn. 1997;43-54.
Dildy GA, Clark SL. Umbilical cord prolapse. Contemporary Ob/Gyn. 1993;23-31.
Lee W, et al. Vasa previa: prenatal diagnosis, natural evolution, and clinical outcome. Obstet Gynecol. 2000;95(4):572-576.
Levy H, Meier P, et al. Umbilical cord prolapse. Obstet Gynecol. 1984;64(4):499-502.
Umbilical cord prolapse. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:
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Updated November 22, 2011. Accessed June 5. 2013.
Umbilical cord prolapse. The Cleveland Clinic Health Information Center website. Available at:
...(Click grey area to select URL)
Accessed June 5, 2013.
Last reviewed June 2013 by Andrea Chisholm, MD; Brian Randall, MD
Last Updated: 5/11/2013