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Umbilical Cord Conditions: How Your Doctor’s Negligence Could Lead to Serious Birth Injuries

Updated April 1, 2024 | By Wilson Kehoe Winingham staff

The umbilical cord is a narrow tube that connects the developing baby to the uterus of the mother. It is often referred to as the “supply line” because it carries the baby’s blood back and forth, delivers oxygen and nutrients to the baby, and removes the baby’s waste.

The umbilical cord begins to form around the fourth week of pregnancy and typically grows to around 22 to 24 inches long. It contains three blood vessels: two arteries and one vein. The vein carries oxygen and nutrients from the placenta to the baby, and the two arteries carry waste from the baby to the placenta. These blood vessels are cushioned and protected by a gelatin-like tissue called Wharton’s jelly.

Potentially umbilical cord problems and conditions include the umbilical cord being too short or too long, not connecting properly to the placenta, or becoming knotted or compressed. In some cases, these conditions are discovered before delivery, typically during an ultrasound. However, they usually are not apparent before delivery. Many of these conditions are harmless, but some can cause serious problems for you and your baby.

Types of Umbilical Cord Conditions

There are several types of umbilical cord conditions, and each come with their own set of complications.

Umbilical Cord Prolapse

Umbilical cord prolapse occurs when there is pressure put on the umbilical cord and it becomes compressed. This can occur during pregnancy or during labor, but it typically occurs when the umbilical cord enters the birth canal before your baby. In some instances, a cesarean section (C-section) may become necessary. Possible effects of umbilical cord prolapse include:

  • Deceleration in your baby’s heart rate
  • Respiratory acidosis
  • Decreased oxygen supply and blood flow
  • Brain damage
  • Stillbirth

Single Umbilical Artery

Single umbilical artery is when the umbilical cord contains only two blood vessels, or when one artery in the umbilical cord is missing. The cause of this abnormality is unknown, but it is more common in multiple pregnancies (twins, triplets, or more). Single umbilical artery can have numerous negative effects, including:

  • Premature labor
  • Birth defects
  • Heart, kidney, or digestion problems
  • Genetic conditions
  • Stillbirth
  • Neonatal death (death within the first 28 days of birth)

Vasa Previa

Vasa previa occurs when one or more of the blood vessels from the umbilical cord or placenta cross the cervix. This means that the vessels are not protected by the Wharton’s jelly in the umbilical cord or the tissue in the placenta. Therefore, the blood vessels can tear during labor or obtain pressure that can cause problems for you or your baby.

The cause of this condition is unknown, but it is fairly common in multiple pregnancies. You may also be at risk if your baby’s umbilical cord doesn’t connect properly to the placenta, or if you have other placenta problems like placenta previa. In some cases, a cesarean delivery may be necessary. Potential negative effects of vasa previa include:

  • Life-threatening bleeding in your baby
  • Decreased oxygen supply
  • Fetal heart decelerations
  • Infant mortality

Nuchal Cord

Nuchal cord, also called nuchal loops, is when the umbilical cord is wrapped around the baby’s neck or other parts of the body (such as a foot or hand). Typically, babies with nuchal cord are born healthy, but it can impact heart rate. Your doctor should be able to detect this on an ultrasound and slip the cord off the baby’s neck during labor and birth.

Umbilical Cord Knots

Umbilical cord knots are knots in the umbilical cord that are formed during delivery when a baby with a nuchal cord is pulled through the loop, or during pregnancy when the baby moves around. If knots remain loose, they generally do not harm the baby. However, if knots are pulled tight, they can cause serious problems. If detected early enough, a cesarean delivery may be considered. Potential effects of umbilical cord knots include:

  • Decreased oxygen supply
  • Heart rate abnormalities
  • Miscarriage
  • Stillbirth

Umbilical Cord Cysts

Umbilical cord cysts are sacs of fluid in the umbilical cord. Most cysts won’t harm the baby, but if they are too large, you may need to have a C-section to keep the cysts from breaking. Potential effects of umbilical cord cysts include:

  • Birth defects
  • Genetic conditions

Doctor Negligence Leading to Umbilical Cord Conditions

Umbilical cord conditions are not considered birth injuries, as most of these conditions occur due to causes that can’t be prevented. However, if a doctor fails to identify and treat a condition in time, birth injuries may follow. Negligence leading to birth injuries as a result of umbilical cord conditions may include:

  • Failure to run appropriate tests
  • Improper fetal monitoring during labor and delivery
  • Failure to detect fetal distress
  • Failure to schedule a necessary C-section
  • Delayed recognition of any umbilical cord condition
  • Delayed treatment for any umbilical cord condition

Contact a Birth Injury Attorney Today

It’s possible that a doctor’s negligence led to your child’s birth injury as a result of an umbilical cord condition. If you believe that this is what happened to your child, reach out to the Indianapolis Birth Injury Attorneys at Wilson Kehoe Winingham, who can help you and your family move forward and get help after an injury. Call 317.920.6400 or fill out an online contact form for a free, no-obligation case evaluation.

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