The Incredible Umbilical Cord

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.

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This baby girl’s cord has beautiful spirals in a consistent pattern. The cord is still busy transferring blood to her.

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This baby’s cord is starting to finish it’s job, it’s starting to go limp and losing it’s deep blue/purple color.

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.

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This baby (Twin A!) is born right through her nuchal cord, you can see how the midwife helped her slip right through it.

 

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Another baby being spiraled through the cord around their neck. (And notice the natural blueish/purple color of her skin – exactly the color she should be the moment she is born!)

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Another baby born with the cord around the neck – this baby’s cord was a very tight nuchal cord, and the midwife almost had to clamp and cut it as the head was born, but she was able to spiral her through without cutting it.

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Another baby with the cord around it’s neck at birth – you can see the cord is still full of blood and doing it’s job well, despite being around the neck.

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Sometimes the cord is wrapped around the lower extremities as well.

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.

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What a lucky baby!

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Another true cord knot – baby was just fine, but you can see this cord was probably cut too early, as it’s not totally limp and white. The blue arteries and veins still have blood in them.

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This little girl was born with a beautiful tight spiral to her cord, which is almost done transferring blood. Grandma is feeling the cord pulse faintly.

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This cord has no spiral to it, and is still pulsing faintly, as the mom has a chance to feel it.

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This cord has a few loose spirals, and is starting to go white & limp.

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A beautiful big cord that nourished this baby girl! Notice the color, indicating it is finishing up it’s job!

 

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A nearly empty cord, still attached to the baby as the Mama gets out of the birth tub.

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Empty cord, attached to it’s placenta

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The placenta is birthed and floating in the bowl, with the cord still attached to baby. Once the placenta is birthed, the cord is completely done and ready to be cut.

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Another white cord and beautiful placenta!

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