Umbilical Cord Compression

Umbilical cord compression can occur for many reasons, and can be dangerous to the infant.

Umbilical cord compression is a medical term to describe a condition in which a baby’s umbilical cord becomes flattened by pressure, resulting in heightened and extremely dangerous health risks for infants. Although it’s an easy condition to recognize, fast treatment is extremely important.

Umbilical Cord Pressure and Compression Causes

Umbilical cord compression can be caused by any reason that results in the cord becoming compressed, with the most common being the baby squeezing or lying on it in the uterus. It can also be squeezed by excessive uterine tone–or squeezing. Rarely, it is due to umbilical cord prolapse. An umbilical cord prolapse occurs when an infant’s umbilical cord slips ahead, usually right before birth. As the cord slips into the birth canal, it can become compressed and flattened. Other common causes include:

umbilical cord compression

Risk factors may include:

  • A breech and/or premature delivery
  • Hydramnios (too much amniotic fluid)
  • Carrying twins
  • Unusually long umbilical cord

Dangers Associated with Umbilical Cord Compression

Any sort of change, injury, or trauma to an infant’s umbilical cord can result in serious medical issues. If an umbilical cord becomes compressed, oxygen, blood flow, and nutrients can be cut off from the baby, resulting in brain damage and in severe cases, fetal death. Fortunately, umbilical cord compression can be detected easily and if treated quickly, the aforementioned medical problems may be eliminated. However, when an infant lacks oxygen, every second is crucial. It’s imperative that physicians act fast once umbilical cord compression is recognized.

Other dangers associated with umbilical cord compression include:

  • Fetal heart abnormalities
  • Poor physical development
  • Birth injuries associated with emergency cesarean sections (C-sections) such as fetal lacerations, bruising, and sometimes swelling.

Umbilical Cord Compression Symptoms

A change in an infant’s heart rate is one of the first recognizable symptoms of umbilical cord compression. The baby’s heart rate may decelerate quickly, therefore it’s imperative that fetal monitoring is being adhered to. Usually, it quickly returns to a normal rate. The heartbeat typically declines to less than 100 beats per minute (BPM).

In addition, pregnant women may be able to tell a difference in movement shortly after an umbilical cord compression. The baby’s movements may become a lot less frequent. Furthermore, when the amniotic sac ruptures, the mother may be able to physically feel the cord dropping into the birth canal if it prolapses.

Umbilical Cord Compression Treatment

For minor umbilical cord compression, additional oxygen is usually administered and additional fluids via an IV to the mother in an attempt to push more oxygen and nutrients through to the infant. Sometimes, maternal position change is all that is needed. For severe cases of umbilical cord prolapse, an emergency C-section may be necessary, and is often carried out just as soon as fetal distress is detected.

In many cases, however, if compressed, the umbilical cord either moves away from the birth canal or becomes uncompressed in time before the infant becomes too distressed. Yet, once a mother’s water breaks, if there is a rapid decrease in fetal heart rate, then physicians must treat the situation as an emergency and act accordingly.

Other treatment options may include:

  • Changing the mother’s position, such as to one side, to relieve the compression
  • A physician may slip his/her finger through the cord and unwrap it if it’s wrapped around the infant’s neck
  • Administration of medications to stop contractions is sometimes an option if a physician feels that the infant needs additional time to recover

Umbilical Cord Compression Prognosis

The outlook after an umbilical cord compression is generally good as long as the healthcare provider detects and treats the problem in time. As mentioned earlier however, failure to treat the compression fast enough can lead to lack of nutrients, oxygen, and blood flow to the baby. This in turn, can lead to severe brain damage, causing cerebral palsy (CP), autism, behavioral disorders, and fetal death.

Kimberly Langdon

Page Medically Reviewed By Kim Langdon, M.D.

Kimberly Langdon, M.D. is a retired board-certified OB/GYN with 19 years of clinical experience. She currently works as a medical writer and featured healthcare expert. She is a regular medical reviewer for Birth Injury Guide.

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