Complications That Can Arise In The Umbilical Cord

By now you know that the umbilical cord is the lifeline of your little one and its role all through the pregnancy. We know briefly that the cord is made up of two arteries and one vein. These vessels are immersed in the Wharton’s jelly which is surrounded by an outer layer of smooth muscle.

It should be known that the umbilical cord when entering the fetus ( near the abdomen), forms two branches: one which joins the hepatic portal vein (of the liver), and the other joins the inferior vena cava (of the heart). These two branches are the reason for sustaining your little one by forming a circuit in the baby’s body and then reconnects to the umbilical cord present outside. In very rare cases, the umbilical cord this normal anatomy may not be seen (which can be detected on an ultrasound), or some problems may occur during birth. Let’s look at few potential problems and how they may affect the little one.

Problems That Can Arise In The Umbilical Cord

  • Single umbilical artery: In a few fetuses, the umbilical cord may not form normally and have a missing artery and the exact etiology is unknown. This defect is generally detected before birth on ultrasound examination.  A single umbilical artery in the baby leads to various birth defects (of the heart, nervous system, chromosomes disorders and the urinary tract) This problem can be detected before birth.
  • Umbilical cord cysts: In some umbilical cord cysts can be seen on the ultrasound (detected by an experienced sonologist). In the future, apart from causing developmental disorders; this may cause problems in the baby’s abdominal organs and kidneys.
    • There are mainly two types of cysts:
      • True cysts: Composed of fluid from the embryo. These cysts usually go away resolve on their own and are mostly located close to the fetal end of the umbilical cord.
      • Pseudocysts (also called false cysts): Composed of fluid from the Wharton’s jelly, these are more frequent in occurrence than true cysts and are more prone to causing chromosomal disorders. Can be seen anywhere along the umbilical cord.
  • Umbilical cord prolapse: During the passage of the baby through the birth canal, the umbilical cord may prolapse &/or directly slip into the birth canal. This causes the umbilical cord to get compressed during delivery. This can become life-threating to the baby as it may cut off the baby’s blood supply. Immediate delivery in such a case is a must!
  • Vasa Previa: In few pregnant women the umbilical cord blood vessels can shift outside (not covered by the Wharton’s jelly or the smooth muscle)  and move underneath the baby. This can be life-threatening as the movements of the baby can lead to tears in the vessels and cause blood loss. This is generally seen in the second or third trimester and any vaginal bleeding should be checked to rule out this complication.
  • Nuchal Cord: When the umbilical cord is wrapped around a baby’s neck it is called a nuchal cord. It is not threatening but in a few cases, it can affect the baby’s heart rate. If present, during labor, the doctor slips the cord off the baby’s neck and no complications are seen.

  • Umbilical cord knots: In some cases, due to the baby’s movements if the umbilical cord is too long, it gets tied and forms knots. This can prove dangerous as it cuts off the blood supply to the little one.

These are few of the complications that can arise in the umbilical cord. Bear in mind that such occurrence is relatively rare and does not happen in most pregnancies. So, put your mind at ease and read this article only for information sake.



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!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *