Velamentous Cord Insertion Pregnancy Complications

Pregnant woman holding her belly in hospital

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A velamentous cord insertion is a pregnancy complication in which the umbilical cord is abnormally inserted into the placenta. In a typical pregnancy, a baby's blood vessels travel from the center of the placenta into the baby via their umbilical. With a velamentous cord insertion, the baby's blood vessels are unprotected, the substance that typically surrounds them (Wharton's jelly) is missing.

In a normal gestational sac, the umbilical cord is inserted into the middle of the placenta and entirely enclosed in the amniotic sac. In a velamentous insertion, the cord inserts itself into the amniotic membrane rather than in the placenta. The baby's blood vessels then stretch along the membrane between the insertion point and the placenta.

Velamentous cord insertion can lead to serious pregnancy complications, such as vasa previa. Vasa previa occurs when the baby's blood vessels run close to the inner part of the cervix—the tissue that separates the uterus from the vagina. Because of their location, these blood vessels are at risk of rupturing. The condition can be deadly with approximately 50 percent of undiagnosed cases leading to fetal death. Approximately 6 percent of single-baby pregnancies with velamentous cord insertion will also have vasa previa.

Velamentous cord insertion can be diagnosed through an ultrasound. It may be difficult to see during the first trimester of pregnancy but is easier to visualize during the second trimester. If you have been diagnosed with a velamentous insertion, your doctor may want to perform a c-section.

Rick Factors

Velamentous insertion occurs in 1.1 percent of single-baby pregnancies and 8.7 percent of twin pregnancies. This type of insertion is more common earlier on in pregnancy. In cases of spontaneous abortion, velamentous cord insertion happens around 33 percent of the time when the pregnancy terminates between nine and 12 weeks. In pregnancies ending between 13 and 16 weeks, the rate is a little lower at 26 percent.

Other risk factors include having a two-lobed placenta, uterine anomalies, and the fetus having a single umbilical artery.

Other Types of Cord Insertions

In addition to velamentous cord insertion, there are several different ways the umbilical cord can join with the placenta:

  • Central insertion (90 percent): Normal umbilical placement in the center of the placenta
  • Marginal cord insertion (7 percent): The umbilical cord less than 2 cm sideways of the placental margin. A marginal cord insertion can develop into a velamentous insertion.

Other Risks Associated With Velamentous Cord Insertion

Velamentous cord insertion can also restrict how much the fetus grows, increase the risk of pre-eclampsia, premature birth, and the need for a c-section. Once the baby is born, they may be more likely to be transferred to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), have a low Apgar score (a ranking of a baby's physical condition), low birth weight, an abnormal heart rate, or other physical issues. Velamentous insertion also increases the risk of having a stillborn child.

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Article Sources

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  • International Vasa Previa Foundation, "Velamentous Insertion of the Umbilical Cord."