Umbilical Cord Prolapse
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
Umbilical cord prolapse is cause by the umbilical cord coming out of the uterus before the baby's head.
Factors that increase your chance of umbilical cord prolapse:
- 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—polyhydramnios
- Artificial rupture of membranes
Seeing or feeling the umbilical cord in the vagina before the baby's delivery is a symptom of umbilical cord prolapse.
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 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.
There are no current guidelines to prevent umbilical cord prolapse.
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.
Holbrook BD, Phelan ST. Umbilical cord prolapse. Obstet Gynecol Clin North Am. 2013;40(1):1-14.
Lee W, et al. Vasa previa: Prenatal diagnosis, natural evolution, and clinical outcome. Obstet Gynecol. 2000;95(4):572-576.
Umbilical cord prolapse. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated November 22, 2011. Accessed June 5. 2013.
Last reviewed May 2015 by Andrea Chisholm, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.