Pregnancy is, as everyone says, a magical time. And it very much is, when you stop and think about how much work your body is doing all by itself. Take the umbilical cord, for example. This cord tethers mother and baby together, providing the fetus with all the oxygen and nutrients it needs to grow in the womb. The umbilical cord does the work from pregnancy all the way through to delivery, when the baby starts breathing on its own, when it’s no longer necessary.
There are times, however, when the umbilical cord can put your baby in danger. If umbilical cord issues aren’t dealt with immediately, a baby is vulnerable to a birth injury. One of the most dangerous of these injuries is a prolapsed umbilical cord.
What is umbilical cord prolapse?
In typical deliveries, the baby’s head exits the birth canal first. However, with a prolapsed umbilical cord, the cord slips into the birth canal before the baby’s head, after the amniotic sac ruptures. This situation requires immediate attention because the cord can become pinched between the baby’s head and the mother’s body, cutting off its supply of oxygen. This is called umbilical cord compression. The lack of oxygen can result in birth injuries, including a drop in heart rate, brain damage, cerebral palsy, or stillbirth.
Diagnosing umbilical cord prolapse
Your obstetrician and doctor has several options for diagnosing a prolapsed umbilical cord. During labor and delivery, they can use a fetal monitor to keep tabs on the baby’s heart rate. A prolapse can cause the baby to show signs of bradycardia, a heart rate of less than 120 beats per minute. The doctor can also do a pelvic examination, and may see the prolapsed cord, or feel it with their fingers.
If there are any signs of umbilical cord prolapse, the doctor should take immediate action to ease the compression. This is usually an emergency cesarean section. There may be other remedies, but the most important thing to remember is the doctor has a responsibility to act immediately when the baby or mother are in danger, otherwise they could be guilty of medical negligence.
Causes of umbilical cord prolapse
There are several reasons an umbilical cord could prolapse. A mother could be at risk if she has any of the following:
- Premature rupturing of the amniotic membranes. If the membranes rupture early or the doctor artificially ruptures them, the baby’s head may still be up high in the uterus, allowing the umbilical cord to drop into the cervix before the baby.
- Premature delivery, which can cause the same situation as rupturing the membranes.
- Delivering multiples. The first baby may push out the cord of the next baby upon exiting the mother’s birth canal.
- An abnormally long umbilical cord.
- Excessive amniotic fluid. With a large amount of fluid, the cord may be forced out before the baby due to the pressure of the fluid exiting the birth canal.
- Unusual delivery presentation. For example, a baby presenting in breech position and coming out the birth canal feet first could allow the umbilical cord to exit first, causing cord compression.
Understand your rights
If you’re at risk for a prolapsed umbilical cord, your obstetrician or medical professional should monitor you according to your specific medical situation. For example, you may need regular ultrasounds to check your amniotic fluid levels, or the length of your umbilical cord.
If your child was deprived of oxygen due to a compressed umbilical cord, talk to our birth injury attorneys today. We will investigate to find out if your doctors responded properly to evidence of a prolapsed cord, and if there was medical negligence involved.