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Prolapsed Umbilical Cord


A prolapsed cord occurs when the baby's umbilical cord falls into the birth canal ahead of the baby's head or other parts of the baby's body. Another term for this condition is cord prolapse .
A prolapsed cord is a serious emergency and can be very harmful to the baby. When the cord is compressed or squeezed (for example, between the baby and the wall of the uterus or vagina ), the baby's supply of blood and oxygen is cut off. The lack of oxygen ( birth asphyxia ) can lead to severe damage or death if the problem is not taken care of within minutes.
A cord prolapse is not a common occurrence, occurring most commonly in the following situations:

  • Polyhydramnios is present.
  • During delivery of the second baby of twins .
  • Baby is in a transverse lie .
  • Baby is in the breech position .
  • When the bag of waters breaks spontaneously or when the doctor ruptures the membranes during a vaginal exam before the foetus descends into the pelvis.

Symptoms and Signs

The mother cannot feel if the baby's cord is prolapsed. The problem becomes apparent when the foetal heart monitor , which is usually attached to the mother's abdomen, shows that the baby's heart rate has decreased. Then the doctor or nurse feel in the vagina for the cord.


Various situations involving prolapsed cord are treated as follows:

  • If the cord is still pulsating (beating) and can be seen or felt in the vagina, the doctor or nurse will hold up the part of the baby that is coming out first. This takes pressure off the cord. Sometimes the mother will be asked to get up on her knees and bend over. To further help take the pressure off the cord, the nurse or doctor will keep a hand in the mother's vagina until the baby is delivered the fastest way possible, usually by emergency caesarean section . The mother will be given oxygen to breathe.
  • If the cord is felt through an amniotic sac that has not broken, the doctor will try not to break the bag of waters. The mother will be asked to get into a position that takes pressure off the cord, either on her hands and knees or with her hips elevated. If the prolapsed cord causes the baby's heartbeat to slow, a caesarean section will probably be necessary.
  • If the baby is positioned head down and low in the birth canal and the mother's cervix is fully dilated, the doctor may try to get the baby out quickly with forceps or vacuum extractor. If the mother isn't fully dilated and ready to deliver, a caesarean section will be performed as quickly as possible.
  • If the baby is breech, the mother is fully dilated, the baby's bottom is about to be delivered, and the mother has delivered a baby before, vaginal delivery may be possible. Otherwise, a caesarean section is necessary

The information in this page is presented in summarised form and has been taken from the following source(s):
1. Floss Obstetrics & Gynaecology Medical Group, Inc.:

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Contact Last modified: Jun 25 2002