Birth Definitions

Umbilical Cord Definition


The umbilical cord is a cable-like structure that connects the developing embryo or fetus to the placenta. The umbilical cord is typically about 50cm long and 2cm in diameter and is composed of three blood vessels: two arteries and one vein. These vessels carry oxygen- and nutrient-rich blood (called cord blood) from the mother to the fetus, and carbon dioxide- and waste-containing blood from the fetus back to the mother.

In addition to its function in connecting the fetus to the placenta, the umbilical cord also serves as a conduit for maternal antibodies to pass from mother to child. These antibodies help protect the newborn from infection in those first few weeks before their own immune system has had a chance to develop.

The umbilical cord is typically clamped and cut shortly after birth but can be left intact if desired. After it is cut, a small stump remains attached to the navel (umbilicus). This will eventually dry up and fall off, leaving a small scar.

Conditions Affecting It

There are a few conditions that can affect the umbilical cord during pregnancy, such as vasa previa, Single umbilical artery, umbilical cord knots, nuchal cord, umbilical cord cyst, and umbilical cord prolapse. Vasa previa occurs when the fetal blood vessels cross over or lie close to the opening of the uterus (cervix), which can cause them to tear during labor and result in fetal bleeding. Single umbilical artery (SUA) is a rare condition that occurs when there is only one artery in the umbilical cord instead of the usual two. Umbilical cord knots happen when the cord wraps around itself or the fetus, which can cut off blood flow and oxygen to the fetus. Nuchal cord occurs when the umbilical cord becomes wrapped around the neck of the fetus at some point during pregnancy; this can potentially restrict fetal movement and cause problems during delivery. An umbilical cord cyst is a buildup of fluid in the umbilical cord, which can cause the cord to be thicker than normal and may lead to problems during delivery. Umbilical cord prolapse, on the other hand, is when the umbilical cord comes out of the uterus ahead of the baby during labor; this can cause the cord to become compressed and cut off the baby’s oxygen supply.

This image shows how often the term ‘Umbilical Cord’ is used in relation to other, similar birth terms:

Other Related Terms:

  • Cord Blood
  • Umbilical Cord Clamping
  • Umbilical Cord Prolapse
  • Umbilical Cord Knots
  • Umbilical Cord Length
  • Short Umbilical Cord
  • True Knot in Umbilical Cord
  • Funic Torsion/Twist
  • Nuchal Cord
  • Umbilical Cord Coiling Index
  • Vasa Previa

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