Umbilical Cord Complications | OB-GYN


Umbilical Cord Complications

Our renowned Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology (OB-GYN) specialists offer diagnosis, monitoring and care of problems with the umbilical cord during pregnancy and delivery.

Medically reviewed by Debra Swanson, M.D. on June 28, 2023.

Pregnant woman lying in a hospital bed with her hands on her stomach

Diagnosis and Support for Umbilical Cord Complications

UC Davis Fetal Care and Treatment Center offers screening and support to find and help with umbilical cord complications. We also treat other issues that may come up during your pregnancy or labor.


What Are Umbilical Cord Complications?

The umbilical cord connects you and your baby while you’re pregnant. This tube starts to form at around 4 weeks of pregnancy. It extends from your baby’s belly button (navel) to a temporary organ that forms in your uterus during pregnancy (placenta).

The umbilical cord contains three blood vessels. It has a vein that carries nutrients and oxygen from your placenta to your baby. It also has two arteries that transport waste from your baby to your placenta, which filters your baby’s blood.

Your umbilical cord usually works without any issues. But sometimes umbilical cord complications may cause problems with your or your baby’s health. The most common types of umbilical cord conditions include:

  • Single umbilical artery: When there’s one missing artery in your umbilical cord.
  • Umbilical prolapse: When your umbilical cord comes out of your vagina ahead of your baby.
  • Vasa previa: When blood vessels from your umbilical cord or placenta attach near the opening to your uterus (cervix).

Risks of Umbilical Cord Complications

Umbilical cord complications don’t always lead to any issues. You may continue to have a normal pregnancy and birth. But in some cases, umbilical cord abnormalities do cause problems during your pregnancy, labor and birth.

Common Risks 

Umbilical cord complications can increase your risk for: 


Causes of Umbilical Cord Complications

Often the cause of umbilical cord complications is unknown. But certain factors may cause problems with the umbilical cord, including:

Blood Vessels Crossing the Cervix

Arteries or veins from the umbilical cord or placenta that attach near your cervix may tear during labor.

Fetal Movement

Your baby’s movement in your womb may lead to umbilical cord knots.

Genetic Condition

A genetic condition in your baby may cause a single umbilical artery.

Long Umbilical Cord

A longer than normal umbilical cord can lead to umbilical cord knots or umbilical cord prolapse.

Poor Umbilical Cord Connection

Your umbilical cord not connecting correctly to your placenta (velamentous insertion) may result in vasa previa.


Risk Factors for Umbilical Cord Complications

Certain things, called risk factors, can increase your risk for complications. These risk factors include:

Breech Position

Having a baby with a bottom- or feet-first (breech) labor increases the risk of umbilical cord prolapse.


Having diabetes increases your risk of having a single umbilical artery.

Low Birthweight or Small Fetal Size

A baby with a low birthweight (less than 5 pounds, 8 ounces) or born prematurely (before 37 weeks) raises risk of umbilical cord prolapse. A smaller fetus raises the risk of umbilical cord knots.

Low-Lying Placenta

Having a low placenta that covers all or some of your cervix (placenta previa) increases the risk of vasa previa.

Multiples Pregnancy

Carrying more than one child increases your risk of umbilical cord knots, umbilical cord prolapse or vasa previa.

Placenta With Multiple Lobes

Having a placenta with two lobes (bilobed placenta) or more than two lobes (multilobed placenta) can increase your risk of vasa previa.

Ruptured Membranes

A thin membrane connects your uterus to the sac that contains your fetus (amniotic sac). Sometimes your provider may need to start or speed up your labor by breaking this membrane. This procedure (amniotomy) may increase your risk of umbilical cord prolapse.

Too Little or Too Much Amniotic Fluid

Not enough amniotic fluid (oligohydramnios) increases the risk of an umbilical cord knot. Excessive amounts of amniotic fluid (polyhdramnios) increase the risk of umbilical cord prolapse.


Diagnosing Umbilical Cord Complications

Your provider may diagnose umbilical cord complications either during pregnancy or during your baby’s birth.

We may detect some umbilical cord conditions through an ultrasound or pelvic exam as part of routine prenatal testing and screening. If we find a complication, we may recommend further testing, such as amniocentesis, a detailed ultrasound, an echocardiogram or genetic testing, to look for congenital abnormalities.

Your provider may diagnose other umbilical cord complications during labor. Your baby’s heart rate may drop if you have a nuchal cord, an umbilical cord knot or vasa previa.

At UC Davis Health, we offer complete prenatal screening and diagnostic testing. Getting an early diagnosis can help you determine the best care for your child. During your labor and delivery, the UC Davis Medical Center provides the highest standard of care for any health concerns that come up.


Care for Umbilical Cord Complications at UC Davis Health

Care for umbilical cord complications involves putting a plan in place to reduce risks as much as possible. If you’re diagnosed with a high-risk pregnancy, our experts will carefully monitor your and your baby’s health.

In many cases, we’ll recommend a cesarean section for delivery to help avoid stress on you and your baby. We may also suggest scheduling an earlier delivery date to reduce the risk of complications.

Our programs and services for umbilical cord complications at UC Davis Health include:

Birth Center

Our caring, knowledgeable labor and delivery teams have extensive experience with high-risk deliveries.

Take a virtual tour of our birth center
Fetal Care Services

Our skilled physicians offer the latest techniques to diagnose and treat congenital disorders and conditions during pregnancy.

Learn more about fetal care
High-Risk Obstetrical Care

We provide advanced care for maternal and fetal conditions diagnosed during pregnancy.

Find out more about maternal-fetal medicine
Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU)

We care for infants born prematurely or with serious health issues related to umbilical cord complications.

Get more information about our NICU
Pediatric and Cardiac Intensive Care Unit (PCICU)

We specialize in treating children with congenital heart abnormalities and similar concerns in our renowned PCICU.

Read more about our PCICU
Pediatric Specialty Care

Our highly trained providers offer many kinds of specialty care for children at UC Davis Health.

Explore our pediatric specialty services

Preventing Umbilical Cord Complications

You can’t prevent umbilical cord conditions from occurring. But you can lessen your risk of serious complications by having regular prenatal check-ups. The sooner you have an umbilical cord issue diagnosed, the sooner you and your provider can take steps toward a healthy birth.

Who does it affect?

19%Of all stillbirths may be related to umbilical cord complications

Source: Obstetrics & Gynecology: Umbilical Cord Abnormalities and Stillbirth

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