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Can a Cord Coil Knot Suffocate Your Baby? Read This Before You Panic
  • When you’re pregnant, your unborn baby’s health largely depends on three vital support systems: the placenta, amniotic sac and fluid, and the umbilical cord, which is his lifeline in the womb. The umbilical cord delivers oxygen and nutrients from the placenta to your baby’s bloodstream.

    The baby’s umbilical cord is a favorite element in pregnancy pamahiins or superstitions. A popular one is how a pregnant woman shouldn’t wear a necklace or wrap a towel around her neck because her unborn baby will suffer a cord coil. Complete cord coil, also called nuchal cord, can happen, but it has nothing to do with the neck accessories you wear during pregnancy.

    Here, we give you the facts about your baby’s umbilical cord.

    The umbilical cord forms as early as Week 5 of pregnancy

    As soon as you conceive, the fertilized egg divides and multiplies until it becomes an embryo. Once it implants itself into your uterus lining, your body starts producing human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG), which is the hormone that pregnancy tests detect.

    The growing embryo in your womb gets its nourishment from a yolk sac during those early weeks of pregnancy. It starts forming the baby’s neural tube, which will be your baby’s brain and spinal cord, and his heart. Around this time, Week 5, just as your period gets delayed, a string of blood vessels that connects you and your baby forms and becomes his umbilical cord.

    As your body sends oxygenated blood to the placenta, your blood will remain separated from your baby’s, making it possible that you both have different blood types.

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    Umbilical cords’ length varies in each baby

    An umbilical cord is typically less than one inch in diameter. By the time you’re on Week 40 of your pregnancy, the cord’s average length spans between 19 and 23 inches although there have been reported measurements between 7 and 52 inches. Some studies suggest the length of a baby’s umbilical cord can depend on how active he is in the womb, especially during the second trimester.

    Most umbilical cords, which naturally twists and coils into the shape of a spring as it grows (only five percent are straight and smooth), have three vessels. One vein carries oxygenated blood and nutrients from the placenta to your baby. The other two are arteries that return deoxygenated blood and waste products, such as carbon dioxide, back to the placenta from your baby.

    One percent of all pregnancies have an umbilical cord with only two vessels, and 75 percent of the time, it’s not an issue. You need extra ultrasound scans and prenatal checkups, so your doctor can monitor your baby’s growth inside the womb. He will want to make sure your baby’s oxygen levels and nutrient supply are enough to sustain him through the whole pregnancy. Take note it can also put your baby at risk for heart, kidney or digestion problems and genetic conditions.

    A waxy substance called Wharton’s jelly coats the umbilical cord’s vessels. It acts as a cushion around the vessels and protects it from getting squashed and knotted.

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    Umbilical cord knot, nuchal loops, and prolapse

    An umbilical cord knot is typical, and it won’t cause your baby harm as long as the knot remains loose. It’s more likely to occur with small babies, babies with long cords, a multiples pregnancy, and hydramnios (also called polyhydramnios), which is a condition where there’s too much amniotic fluid. If a knot becomes tight, it could affect your baby’s blood circulation resulting in lower oxygen levels and, possibly, a stillbirth.

    When the umbilical cord wraps itself on the baby’s neck, it’s called a nuchal cord (also called nuchal loop), which can again restrict oxygen flow to the baby. A 2018 study showed that the majority of babies whose cords were wrapped around their neck do just fine.

    Umbilical cord prolapse occurs when the cord slips into the birth canal ahead of your baby during labor and childbirth. Umbilical cord prolapse happens in less than one percent of births. Cord prolapse is also more likely to occur in pregnant women carrying multiples, or her water bag has been ruptured. It can also happen when the baby was born before 37 weeks, has a low birth weight and long umbilical cord, or in breech (not head down) position.

    These are the reasons it’s crucial to monitor your baby’s movements, especially during the third trimester of pregnancy. Any change in your baby’s movement, or lack thereof, requires immediate medical attention. If your water breaks and you feel something in your vagina, go to the hospital right away.


    Can cord coil (knots and nuchal loops) be prevented?

    According to obstetrician-gynecologist Dr. Michele Hakakha, M.D., babies in the womb are submerged in amniotic fluid, and they swim around in that fluid. Their constant movement, especially during the first two trimesters of pregnancy when they have more room, makes it impossible to prevent the umbilical getting knotted or wrapped around different parts of their body, even their necks. These are just par for the course of pregnancy and may only cause concerns during labor and childbirth.

    Maria Lalaine Cartago-Garcia, M.D., says a knot or a nuchal loop can be detected when you get your biophysical profile, which includes a non-stress test during the last few weeks of your pregnancy. It can also be detected via ultrasound and fetal monitoring.

    If you went to the hospital due to decreased fetal activity after Week 37, doctors will hook you up immediately to a fetal monitor or perform an ultrasound to check your baby's health and status. If you arrive in the hospital with suspected cord prolapse, your doctor can relieve the pressure off the cord by moving your baby. But if the umbilical cord is pinched, you may need to have a C-section.

    Dr. Hakakha says that during childbirth, the first thing your doctor will do once your baby’s head comes out is to slip a finger around the back of the baby’s neck to check whether a cord is wrapped around it. Often, it’s usually loose enough to easily remove it over your baby’s head before proceeding with the delivery.

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    Delayed umbilical cord clamping

    Towards the end of your pregnancy, the placenta passes antibodies through the umbilical cord, offering your baby’s immune system a much-needed boost to fight infections for the first three months of his life. After birth, the Department of Health (DOH) and the World Health Organization (WHO) states in the Unang Yakap campaign protocols that doctors and midwives wait at least a minute before cutting the baby’s umbilical cord.

    Delayed cord clamping has been proven to benefit babies, especially premature infants. Blood from the placenta and the umbilical cord offer essential nutrients and antibodies crucial to the baby’s health during the first weeks of life. The additional blood flow has been linked to higher hemoglobin levels at birth, improved iron levels, which prevent iron deficiency in the first year of life and offer long-term neuro-developmental benefits. It also helps moms lower their risk of postpartum hemorrhaging after birth.

    While delayed cord clamping is recommended, some women opt for a lotus birth wherein the baby is born with the cord still attached to the baby and the placenta. In a full-lotus birth, the baby’s umbilical cord remains connected to the placenta until it falls off on its own.

    By the way, Cutting the umbilical cord will not hurt your baby since it has no nerve endings. After the cord is cut, the doctor clamps it about two centimeters from the baby’s abdomen, and the rest is usually trimmed and discarded. A lot of moms today also opt to take it home, have it cleaned and dried to be turned into a pregnancy keepsake.


    Read more about the umbilical cord:

    How to Care and Clean Your Newborn's Pusod

    How to Clean Your Baby's Belly Button and Remove Accumulated Dirt

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