The Nuchal Cord Myth

After nearly a year of pregnancy, the labor journey or preparation for abdominal birth, your baby is about to be born…. That moment of anticipation as you are about to meet your bundle of perfection is filled with hope for complete health and to hear that long awaited first cry. But what if what you actually see, as your baby is brought to your fatigue arms, is their umbilical cord wrapped around their neck, not once but maybe even twice or three times. Your worst nightmare? Shouldn’t be. The cord being wrapped around the babies neck before or during birth is referred to as a “Nuchal Cord” and is actually pretty common, occurring in approximately one in every three births with nearly half resolving before delivery.The Nuchal cord is not associated with any significant increased risk or adverse outcomes for otherwise healthy babies.

Umbilical cords house arteries and veins that keep your baby alive throughout your pregnancy. When the baby comes out, so does the cord, but since the cord is still connected to both of you, your baby is continually being supplied with blood and oxygen. The initial breath may not take place immediately but they are still getting life sustaining nutrients from the cord as they have for the previous nine months. This also explains why babies can thrive in an underwater birth. Other umbilical cord abnormalities can be more serious, like compression or knotting but they are much less common as there is a gelatinous substance called “Wharton’s Jelly” inside the cord that cushions the blood vessels and protects them.

Who is at great risk for a nuchal cord? Some studies suggest that one major factor is the length of the cord which varies widely from roughly 19 to 133cm. The average umbilical cord length is around 50-60cm long. As your baby kicks and moves around inside you a longer cord has a greater potential of looping around the fetal neck. Cesarean section and induction are sometimes proposed when a nuchal cord is discovered on ultrasound but these interventions may cause more fetal distress than the presence of a nuchal cord. Be sure to discuss all of your options regarding safe and healthy birth with your provider so you can be a part of the decision making and be supported in the choices that you make.