Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center - Health Library

Umbilical Cord Prolapse

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

Definition

The umbilical cord links the baby to the placenta. This is an organ that nourishes the baby. Umbilical cord prolapse is when the cord passes through the birth canal in front of the baby's head. It happens after the membranes have ruptured.

As the baby is born, it puts pressure on the cord. This can lower or cut off blood flow and oxygen to the baby.

Umbilical Cord Prolapse
Prolapsed Umbilical cord

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Causes ^

This problem is caused by the cord coming out of the womb before the baby's head.

Risk Factors ^

Things that raise your risk are:

  • A mother with an odd pelvic structure
  • Breaking of the membranes
  • A placenta that is low
  • Having delivered five or more babies
  • Having a baby that is in the breech position
  • Being pregnant with more than one baby
  • Being born too early
  • Low birth weight
  • Having too much fluid in the womb
  • Birth abnormalities

Symptoms ^

The main sign is a change in the baby’s heart rate during birth. You may also be able to see the cord after a membrane rupture.

Diagnosis ^

You have this problem if the doctor sees or feels the cord before the baby is born.

The baby’s heartrate will be checked to make sure it is not too slow.

Treatment ^

This problem is treated by:

  • Taking pressure off 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 to the baby. The mother may also be asked to move her body to ease pressure from the cord and protects the baby.
  • Rapid birth—If the mother is ready, rapid birth with special tools may need to be done.
  • Birth by C-section—If the baby cannot be quickly delivered vaginally.

Cesarean Delivery
Cesarean Delivery

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Prevention ^

There are no ways to prevent this problem.

RESOURCES:

The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
http://www.acog.org

American Pregnancy Association
http://www.americanpregnancy.org

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

The Canadian Women's Health Network
http://www.cwhn.ca

The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada (SOGC)
http://sogc.org

REFERENCES:

Holbrook BD, Phelan ST. Umbilical cord prolapse. Obstet Gynecol Clin North Am. 2013;40(1):1-14.

Umbilical cord prolapse. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T900149/Umbilical-cord-prolapse. Updated December 15, 2014. Accessed August 10, 2018.

Last reviewed June 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Beverly Siegal, MD, FACOG  Last Updated: 8/10/2018