Does a Nuchal Cord Cause Increased Risk of Stillbirth?

A Closer Look at the Term Nuchal Cord

Pregnant couple having sonogram
Getty Images/John Fedele

The term nuchal cord refers to the condition in which the umbilical cord is wrapped one or more times around the unborn baby's neck. Though it might sound at first like such a condition would pose a serious risk of choking the baby in the womb, this is not usually the case.

Nuchal cord is a fairly common condition, occurring in up to a third of all deliveries and in two types (A and B). Type A means that the cord is loosely wrapped, and type B means that the cord is more tightly wrapped around the baby's neck.

Type A nuchal cords are rarely problematic and are usually managed by a physician or trained midwife slipping the cord over the baby's neck during delivery to prevent compression. In a few studies, type B nuchal cords appear to cause an increased incidence of C-section, but most studies find no significantly increased risk of complications with any type of ultrasound-detected nuchal cord.

In understanding nuchal cords, it helps to keep in mind that unborn babies don't breathe through their mouths in the womb. Oxygen is delivered through the mother's blood via the placenta and umbilical cord, and the cord is constructed in such a way that the normal movements and somersaults of an unborn baby usually won't disrupt blood flow through the cord. During delivery, trained doctors or midwives know to monitor for nuchal cord and take appropriate intervention when needed and thus it is rare that the condition causes any problems.


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