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Umbilical Cord Complications

Umbilical Cord Complications and Birth Injuries

The umbilical cord is an unborn baby's lifeline. It connects a baby to the placenta and delivers nutrients and oxygen from the mother to the baby. It is also used to discard a baby's waste. The umbilical cord starts to develop after five weeks, and supports the growth, development, and overall health of the baby throughout the pregnancy.

Umbilical cord abnormalities are some of the most serious pregnancy complications due to its importance in providing life to a fetus. Depending on the abnormality, a baby can suffer asphyxiation, develop birth defects or have other fetal problems. Some abnormalities can cause stillbirth.

Types of Umbilical Cord Complications

The most common umbilical cord abnormalities and complications include:

Single Umbilical Artery

A normal umbilical cord has three blood vessels that supply nutrients to the baby. However, in a small percentage of pregnancies, the umbilical cord will have only two blood vessels. One of the arteries is missing. Babies with single umbilical artery are at a higher risk for birth defects, including defects of the heart and central nervous system.

The cause of single umbilical cord artery is unknown; however, an ultrasound should be able to diagnose the condition. In these cases, special prenatal tests are necessary to detect any birth defects and to help prepare for the proper treatment measures for these defects following the delivery.

Umbilical Cord Prolapse

Umbilical cord prolapse occurs when the umbilical cord slips into the vagina after the membrane ruptures (water breaks). As the baby moves down the cervix during delivery, it puts pressure on the umbilical cord, cutting off the oxygen supply. This umbilical cord complication is an emergency.

Umbilical cord prolapse is detectable by feeling something in the vagina after the water breaks. A doctor confirms umbilical cord prolapse by doing a cervical exam. Once the complication is detected, the doctor must take immediate action to reduce the pressure. An emergency C-section is often necessary to deliver the baby quickly and reduce the risk of hypoxic brain damage or stillbirth resulting from the lack of oxygen.

Vasa Previa

Vasa previa is a serious pregnancy complication that occurs when the umbilical cord and blood vessels grow outside of the amniotic sac next to the membranes. This creates pressure on the blood vessels during delivery, which could cause them to burst. Vasa previa is extremely serious because burst blood vessels cause the baby to bleed out quickly. In fact, 95 percent of babies with this complication are stillborn if it is not diagnosed early enough to order a C-section. Even if the blood vessels do not burst, the pressure on them during delivery can lead to oxygen deprivation.

Vasa previa may be diagnosed during routine ultrasounds. When diagnosed early on, a doctor may suggest a mother remain in the hospital so immediate attention can be given if the blood vessels burst. Often a doctor will order a C-section at around 35 weeks to reduce the risk of complications from vasa previa. It is essential the doctor take the right precautions to avoid infant brain damage or stillbirth.

Umbilical Cord Knots

Knots in the umbilical cord most commonly occur in multiple pregnancy and when the umbilical cord is too long. There is often little harm to the baby. However, if the knots tighten they can cut off the oxygen supply. Doctors who notice knots in the umbilical cord should make a decision as to whether to order a C-section to reduce the risk of asphyxiation, oxygen deprivation or stillbirth.

Umbilical Cord Cyst

Umbilical cord cysts are abnormal growths on the umbilical cord. They can either be fluid-filled pockets (false cysts) or leftover cells from early fetal development (true cysts). Some cysts have been known to cause birth defects. A mother with umbilical cord cysts may require additional testing to rule out or diagnose birth defects. Diagnosing a birth defect early on can prepare doctors for immediate treatment measures following the delivery.

Prevention and Treatment of Umbilical Cord Complications

Umbilical cord complications occur from natural causes so there is a definitive way to prevent them from occurring. It is the treatment and response to these abnormalities that makes a difference in the outcome. Taking the right precautions and making smart medical decisions can even save the baby's life. The correct treatment depends on the type or severity of the umbilical cord abnormality.

The Birth Injury Team is a subsidiary of Silvers, Langsam & Weitzman, P.C., made up of experienced attorneys and medical professionals. Our lawyers have more than 100 years of combined experience handling birth injury cases. We are dedicated to helping parents understand their child's condition and guiding them through the process of securing the care and support they need. Located in Philadelphia, we serve clients across the United States.


Located in Philadelphia, Silvers, Langsam & Weitzman, P.C., home of MyPhillyLawyer, serves clients in Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania, and throughout the United States.

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