Pregnancy Home > Umbilical Cord Prolapse

When the umbilical cord drops down into the birth canal, it is known as umbilical cord prolapse. This rare condition is typically caused by things like premature birth, certain breech presentations, or the baby's head not being pressed snugly against the cervix. A cesarean, forceps, or vacuum delivery may be needed if the prolapse is causing problems for the baby.

Understanding the Umbilical Cord

The umbilical cord delivers nutrients and oxygen to the baby. In this sense, the umbilical cord is the baby's lifeline. If, for any reason, the flow through the umbilical cord gets blocked, it can cause problems for the baby (often called "fetal distress").

What Is Umbilical Cord Prolapse?

After the amniotic sac holding the baby breaks (known as having your "water break"), the umbilical cord may drop down into the birth canal, and a small part of it may even come out of the vagina. This is called "umbilical cord prolapse." While umbilical cord prolapse is rare, it requires immediate medical attention and possibly an emergency C-section. Common reasons why this may happen include:
  • A premature birth
  • Some breech presentations
  • The baby's head not being pressed snugly up against the cervix.

Problems Related to Umbilical Cord Prolapse

During labor, the umbilical cord moves around in the womb along with the baby. Sometimes, it can stretch out, become tangled in a knot, or get wrapped around the baby. If any of these things happen, it can compress the cord and block the flow of blood and oxygen through it. This can make the baby's heartbeat slow down.
This happens relatively often, but normally it corrects itself when the baby moves again or your doctor asks you to change positions. However, if this happens when the baby is moving through the birth canal, the umbilical cord may get compressed long enough to be unhealthy for the baby. If the problem continues, cesarean, forceps, or vacuum delivery may be needed.
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last updated/reviewed:
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