The umbilical cord is a tube-like structure that connects the developing fetus in the womb to the mother during pregnancy. Its main purpose is to transport vital nutrients to the baby from the mother and also transports the baby’s waste products. It’s usually flexible and is the lifeline between the mother and the baby.
Umbilical cord prolapse is a medical complication that either occurs during or before delivery of the child. This is a complication where the umbilical cord prolapses or drops through the open cervix into the birth canal before the baby. This complication occurs in approximately one in every 300 births.
There are basically two types of cord prolapse. Overt prolapse is the commonest and it mostly occurs ahead of the presenting part of the fetus often by way of the cervix or the vagina while occult prolapse is said to happen when the umbilical cord falls alongside the presenting part.
What are the causes of umbilical cord prolapse?
The commonest cause of this complication is the untimely breaking of the amniotic fluid membranes. Usually, once the amniotic sac breaks – what is called the water breaking – the umbilical cord in some cases can drop into the birth passage causing this complication.
After this happens, the fetus moves down into the birth canal putting pressure on the umbilical cord. This poses a very huge risk during delivery as the blood and oxygen supply through the cord may be cut off.
Other causes of umbilical cord prolapse include premature delivery of the child, multiple or more than two deliveries in one pregnancy, excessive amniotic fluid during delivery, breech delivery in which the baby comes out feet first through the birth canal and an umbilical cord that may be longer than usual.
Understanding the steps taken after a prolapse occurs
Due to the danger that this complication poses to the baby during delivery, immediate intervention is needed by qualified medical professionals. Normally during delivery, medical experts constantly monitor the baby’s heart beat rate using a fetal heart monitor. When prolapse occurs during delivery, the baby may have an unusually high or low heart beat rate which is detected by the monitor. A pelvic examination also reviles if the complication has occurred.
Once umbilical cord prolapse occurs, immediate action has to be taken. Medical intervention at this stage depends on the stage of labor and the position of the baby. One of the quickest ways is fast delivery by help of a medical expert who finds the prolapsed cord and moves the fetus away from it in order to reduce the risk of oxygen or blood loss. If delivery is not possible, administration of a drug to lessen the contractions is used. If this method fails, then a Cesarean Section has to be done immediately.
Cesarean Section is perhaps one of the safest and best methods. This greatly reduces further complications such as brain damage or even death if delayed. It is important to be aware that umbilical cord prolapse is a life-threatening complication especially to the fetus therefore necessary steps should always be taken to ensure safe delivery.