Your Baby’s Lifeline – The Umbilical Cord

Being pregnant gets you curious to know all about the scientific terminologies related to it. You have these coming 9 months and Savika to help you understand better. One such topic that you must want to know about is the umbilical cord and how essential it is for your baby.

So, what is the umbilical cord?

The umbilical cord is rightly known as your baby’s lifeline. It is the only connection that the baby has to its mother (to the placenta) in the womb. The umbilical cord is a characteristic feature seen in mammals (as the offspring gestate within the mother). In human beings, the umbilical cord is clamped after birth whereas other mammals, they chew it off or wait for it to dry/fall off on its own.

What is the form & structure of the umbilical cord?

The umbilical cord develops around the 5th week of gestation from the yolk sack and the allantois. It is a hollow tube-like structure and is approximately 1 inch (1 to 2 cm) in diameter and 20 – 22 inches (50 – 60 cm) long. The umbilical cord is coiled (similar to an old telephone cord)and has around 10 to 12 spirals. This coiled nature also helps the baby to move around in the womb.

It comprises of three vessels: two arteries and one vein (arranged in a triangular fashion, with the arteries forming the base and the vein the apex).  These vessels are immersed in a liquid called the Wharton’s jelly (which helps to prevent the cord from getting tangled).

What is the function of the umbilical cord?

The main functions of the umbilical cord include:

  1. it serves as a source of oxygenated blood to the growing baby
  2. it serves as a source of nutrients (calories, proteins, fats, vitamins, minerals etc)
  3. it serves as a source to transfer the metabolic waste products and deoxygenated blood of the baby to the mother’s circulation
  4. Helps in transferring immunity from the mother to the baby
  5. Acts as a reservoir for stem cells which are totipotent cells (can transform to any type of cell)

Note: The umbilical arteries carry the metabolic waste products and deoxygenated blood (which s carbon-di-oxide) which is transferred to the mother’s circulation via the placenta and then her lungs, where it is breathed out. Oxygen and nutrients are transported from the mother’s circulation via the placenta to the umbilical vein. This is one scenario where the opposite of what normally happens in the human body is seen.

What is the right time to cut the cord?

Post delivery, the umbilical cord vessels close on their own. The arteries close first and prevent blood loss to the placenta from your baby. The vein closes slightly later (starts around 15 seconds and completes by 3 to 4 minutes), allowing the blood to reach the baby during the first few minutes of life, hence a slight delay in clamping is advised. As per the  World Health Organization (WHO) and other researchers, waiting anywhere between 30 to 120 seconds before severing the cord is ideal. This is because it reduces the possibility of the baby needing a blood transmission and the risk of an intravenous hemorrhage.

However, if you decide to donate umbilical cord blood, the cord may need to be cut immediately.

Will cutting the cord hurt the baby?

As there are no nerves, just vessels – the baby won’t feel any pain on clamping/cutting the cord.

How to take care of a newborn’s umbilical cord? 

A piece of the umbilical cord may remain attached to your baby’s belly button. This will eventually dry up in a few days and fall off ( 2-3 days post-birth). Meanwhile, you should clean the area as per the instructions that were given to you on child care post-delivery.








Dr. Aishwarya Rajeev has completed her MDS degree and is currently pursuing her PhD. She is an avid reader and loves to teach and write!

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