The mother breathes through wave after wave of contractions. She begins to push intuitively and soon feels her baby’s head, then their shoulders emerge. She exclaims with joy and holds her baby close as the midwife deftly removes the cord looped around his neck and shoulders. The mother and baby are secure and safe to recover slowly and bask in the glow that only exists on a birthday.
When you first hear about a cord wrapped around an infant’s neck, you may feel a sense of alarm. Especially if it’s your own baby!
What is a Nuchal Cord?
A Nuchal Cord is the result of the umbilical cord wrapping around the baby’s neck during delivery. The cord can also be wrapped around the torso or an extremity. One third of all babies born have a nuchal cord.
There are many concerns that you may have, and I’m going to address them below. It’s important to note that cord length and the position of your baby have almost no correlation with nuchal cord occurrence, and there is no way to prevent a nuchal cord.
Let’s take a look at the most common concerns:
Can the baby breathe?
Yes! The baby doesn’t take their first true breath until they are born. The umbilical cord is built to provide the blood supply, and thus the nutrition and oxygen your baby needs regardless of constriction or pressure during pregnancy, labor, and delivery. This is another reason intervention can be a negative, your baby’s only oxygen supply is removed if the cord is prematurely cut. True knots that cut off this blood supply are incredibly rare.
Is it hurting the baby?
It’s highly unlikely. The cord is lubricated inside with a gelatinous substance called Wharton’s Jelly. This acts to prevent the blood vessels from constricting and the cord from looping too tightly or gripping the skin. The amniotic fluid also acts as a cushion.
Is their blood supply cut off?
No, as noted above the cord is well protected and built for labor and delivery. Unless there is a medical condition or known cord defect, there is no reason to be concerned. It is even normal for the babies heart rate to slightly dip during contractions.
Will it hurt my placenta?
Your uterus, placenta, and cord are all contracting together. The cord will not pull on your placenta or otherwise harm delivery. Even multiple loops (up to 9!) have been reported with no ill effects.
Has this just turned into an emergency?*
In almost all cases, no. There is almost no evidence to suggest that a nuchal cord requires immediate medical attention.
*This information is based on evidence based research and not meant to replace advice from a medical care provider.
Here’s a video as an example of a normal birth with a nuchal cord!
So what can you do?
Inform yourself as much as possible. Read positive books on birth, do your research, and plan your birth in a way you feel comfortable.
Find a great care provider you trust to encourage you during birth. Consider hiring a Doula for added support!
Birth in an upright position! Studies have shown that there is less pain reported and less intervention associated with birthing in almost any position other than lying on your back.
Remain calm. Trust your body and your baby to do what they were built for. Stress and panic can increase pain, affect your vitals, and lead to interventions you might not have planned.