One of the popular debates in the birth community recently is delayed cord clamping after a baby is born – the theory (and supported by research) is baby can benefit greatly from the last of the blood transferred from the placenta to the baby via umbilical cord. Some benefits include more optimal oxygen transport and higher red blood cell flow to vital organs, reduced infant anemia and much more! If you have ever watched a cord change as it transfers the last of the blood to baby, it’s easy to understand why it should be allowed to finish it’s job. Over the years I’ve photographed a few cords in various states, from the thick, full cord, to the limp empty one after all the blood has been transferred.
Cords have many different looks. Some are tightly spiraled, some are very loosely spiraled, some have a repetitive spiral pattern and some have random spirals – some have no spirals at all! They seem to be as unique as the babies attached to them. Cords can also vary greatly in length – if a baby does get tangled in it’s cord during gestation, the cord will actually grow longer to prevent it from being pulled too tightly as the baby descends during labor. If a cord is too short, it can cause distress during birth as the baby tries to move down. I’ve seen a cord that was just 16 inches, and a cord that was 4 feet long ! (Which the midwife joked could have been used as a jump rope.). Can you guess how many times that 4 foot cord was wrapped around baby? Twice around her neck, and a few more times around the rest of her body.
Umbilical cords are pretty amazing sustainers of life, as you can see in this small collection of photographs I’ve taken.
A common fear among soon-to-be mothers is “what if my baby is born with the cord around it’s neck?” It seems as though everyone has a mother or aunt with a frightening story about their baby being born wrapped in it’s cord and blue because of it. In the stories it’s always a very dire situation, like the cord caused a near brush with death. While a cord wrapped too many times around the neck or a short cord wrapped around the neck CAN pose a problem for descending during labor, being born with a nuchal cord (cord around the neck) is not usually an issue at all. In fact studies indicate it can be a natural protection against cord prolapse, which IS a dangerous issue. (Cord prolapse is when the cord slips down beside or past the baby’s head during birth and is compressed – stopping the flow of blood and oxygen to the baby). Babies are naturally born a blueish/purple color because they do not breathe air in the womb. When they take their first gulp of air after birth, their skin begins to pink up quickly. When a baby is born in distress they are born gray or white. If a baby presents with a nuchal cord, a care provider usually helps the baby be born right through it.
Sometimes babies are born with true cord knots, which likely happens as a younger/smaller gestation baby swims through and tangles their cord. If the cord gets pulled too tightly in a knot, it can be a very serious issue and lead to fetal death. When sufficient amounts of Wharton’s Jelly is present inside the cord, it will prevent the cord from being pulled too tight, therefore keeping the baby safe. As any pregnant mama knows, the thought of an umbilical cord knot is quite terrifying! Here are two true umbilical cord knots, both which ended in healthy full term babies because the cords were long enough they did not present a problem as the baby moved down and the Wharton’s Jelly prevented the cord from being pulled & compressed too tightly.