Pronounced: um-BILL-ick-ul cord PRO-lapse
by Diana Kohnle
The umbilical cord connects the fetus to the placenta (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 is relatively common. It occurs in one in every 300 births.
Premature rupture of the membranes that contain the amniotic fluid is the most common cause of umbilical cord prolapse. Other common causes include:
Risk factors that increase your chance of getting umbilical cord prolapse include:
Seeing or feeling the umbilical cord in the vagina before the baby's delivery is a symptom of umbilical cord prolapse.
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. A pelvic examination will be done to see and feel the umbilical cord present in the vagina.
Your doctor may have heart rate monitoring done for you and your baby.
Treatment options include:
Umbilical cord prolapse is difficult to prevent. If you have risk factors, talk to your doctor about C-section and other ways to help prevent the risk of umbilical cord prolapse.
The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
American Pregnancy Association
The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada
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Cunningham FG, et al. Abnormalities of the umbilical cord in: Williams Obstetrics . 21st ed. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill; 2001.
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, Makowski E. Umbilical cord prolapse. Obstet Gynecol. 1984;64(4):499-502.
Umbilical cord prolapse. The Cleveland Clinic Health Information Center website. Available at: http://www.clevela... . Accessed December 19, 2012.
Last reviewed December 2012 by Andrea Chisholm, MD
Last Updated: 12/19/2012
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