Your umbilical cord connects the placenta with your unborn baby. During the gestation period, it serves as the only source of food and oxygen for your developing child. This means if something happens to your cord, your baby can suffer negative health effects or even die. How do you know if you have umbilical cord problems in the womb?
Doctors discover most issues during routine ultrasounds. However, listening to your body can clue you in as well.
What Causes Umbilical Cord Problems in the Womb?
Researchers don’t know precisely what causes umbilical cord problems in the womb. However, some scientists believe the risk factors for some issues may mirror risk factors for other complications during pregnancy. For example, women who are overweight or obese run a higher risk of developing high blood pressure. Other risk factors include polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), certain autoimmune and thyroid disorders, and HIV/AIDS, among others.
The umbilical cord develops during the first four weeks of pregnancy, so engaging in certain behaviors during this time can impact development. Pass on yoga poses that involve lying on your back, as this puts pressure on the vena cava, which carries blood back to the heart from the lower body. If this blood supply gets interrupted, it could impact fetal development.
Likewise, women should avoid high-impact aerobic activity during early pregnancy. This can put stress on your joints, but could potentially impact cord development, too. Also, take a pass on contact sports until after you deliver — your developing baby takes every blow you endure.
Types of Umbilical Cord Problems
Seeing your gynecologist proves critical during pregnancy. While you may detect signs of some umbilical cord problems, others have no symptoms at all — at least until you tragically feel the baby stop moving.
Symptoms of some umbilical cord problems mirror those of common placental disorders. For example, if a woman smokes or experiences high blood pressure during pregnancy, she runs a higher risk of developing both single umbilical artery and preeclampsia.
- Single umbilical artery: Normally, two arteries extend to the uterus, but in this condition, only one develops. Babies with a single umbilical artery may develop problems such as heart, kidney and genetic disorders. Doctors detect single umbilical artery through a detailed ultrasound and need to monitor fetal health frequently throughout pregnancy.
- Umbilical knots: Knots in the umbilical cord often develop early in pregnancy — one more reason to pass on high-impact aerobics during the first few weeks. If these knots get pulled too tight, the baby no longer receives the oxygen and nutrients it needs to develop. This can lead to miscarriage and stillbirth.
- Umbilical cysts: Cysts sometimes develop in early pregnancy and are one of the most common umbilical cord problems in the womb. However, they aren’t necessarily dangerous. Two types of cyst exist — true cysts and pseudocysts. Pseudocysts are more common and may indicate a genetic condition.
- Vasa previa: Vasa previa occurs when one of the arteries from the umbilical cord extends through the cervix, the opening to the uterus. This can cut off blood flow to the baby, and half of all infants with this condition die. You may need a cesarian section if this occurs. If you have placenta previa, you’re more likely to experience vasa previa.
- Umbilical cord prolapse: This occurs when the umbilical cord slips through the uterus before labor and childbirth. If you feel something extending into your vagina, seek medical attention immediately. You may need a cesarean section, or else stillbirth could occur.
- Nuchal cord: Nuchal cord occurs when your umbilical cord becomes wrapped around the baby’s head. This happens more often when the cord is too long, or you’re carrying twins. While terrifying, your health care provider can usually disentangle nuchal cord during labor and delivery.
Umbilical Cords Can Be Too Long or Too Short
Your umbilical cord can also grow too long or too short. A too-short umbilical cord can tear, cutting off the oxygen and food supply to the baby. This can occur spontaneously or as a result of high blood pressure impacting cord development early in pregnancy. This can also slow growth, so careful monitoring during pregnancy remains necessary.
A too-long umbilical cord increases your risk of umbilical cord prolapse and umbilical knots. Again, careful monitoring remains key to your developing infant’s health.
Umbilical Cords Can Get Infected
After birth, the umbilical cord can continue to pose health risks. In most cases, the remaining umbilical cord dries up and falls off within the first few weeks after birth. Sometimes, this becomes infected. Always wash your hands before and after changing diapers, and avoid dressing your baby in clothes that put undue pressure on the cord. Seek medical attention if the cord becomes red or swollen, as your infant may need medications to treat the infection.
Caring for Umbilical Cord Problems in the Womb
As researchers remain unaware of what causes many umbilical cord problems in the womb, careful monitoring throughout pregnancy remains key to fetal health. By seeing your obstetrician regularly, you can detect umbilical cord problems early and take preventive measures to prevent injury during childbirth.