Causes Of Short Umbilical Cord: Symptoms And Complications

The umbilical cord is main lifeline for the baby inside the womb. It provides the required oxygen and nutrients for healthy development of fetus. One end of the cord is attached to fetal stomach and the other end to placenta. The average length of cord is 50 to 60 cm. Umbilical cord is considered to be short if its length is less than 35 cm.

Short cord may not only limit fetal movement and its growth inside the womb but it may be associated with fetal distress and various complications during the time of delivery.

The most dangerous complication is umbilical cord rupture and severe hemorrhage which can be life threatening for mother as well as for the fetus. If detected in prenatal stage elective cesarean section is treatment choice.

What Can Cause A Short Umbilical Cord?

At least 6 percent of pregnancies are observed to have short length of the umbilical cord. This anomaly can be present at all age of pregnancy. There is association of some hereditary influence, but still the exact cause remains unknown. Below are given important risk factors:

  • Pregnant woman with very low body weight.
  • Woman pregnant for the first time.
  • History of consuming alcohol during pregnancy.
  • History of smoking.
  • Diabetes during pregnancy.
  • Certain chromosomal abnormalities such as Down’s syndrome.
  • Female fetus.
  • Amniocentesis performed in early pregnancy period.
  • Fetal growth is small for its gestational age.
  • Decreased or excess of fluid in the amniotic sac.

Symptoms & Complications Of Short Umbilical Cord

The umbilical cord is visible on ultrasound around 8th week of pregnancy. During the course of follow up, ultrasound studies of umbilical cord is done from time to time in third and fourth trimester. During this period a detailed assessment of location of the cord, number of twists etc is attempted as it has some type of connection with the length of cord. Short umbilical cord causes less blood flow to the fetus. It may result in fetal distress. The distress can be elicited on fetal heart rate monitor.

When the umbilical cord is short, it can affect the health of fetus as well as the pregnant woman. There are several complications that may arise from shortened cord, some of them being extremely critical for sustaining the life of fetus.

Complications of a short umbilical cord are:

  • Placental abruption is the most severe complication of the short umbilical cord. As the baby moves the insufficient cord length can pull away placenta from its insertion on the uterine wall. This causes severe and dreadful bleeding compromising oxygen and nutrient supply to the fetus.
  • Intrauterine growth retardation due to insufficient supply of nutrients and oxygen.
  • Rupture of umbilical cord.
  • Increased incidence of miscarriage
  • Retention of placenta in mother.
  • Labor period is prolonged.
  • Uterine inversion.
  • Brain damage of the baby.

Treatment For Short Umbilical Cord

There is no specific treatment oriented to overcome problems such as short umbilical cord. However, when detected certain treatment measures will help in improving the chances of overall fetal well being.

  • If the condition is known in prenatal stage elective cesarean section may be necessary for better prognosis.
  • If the condition is diagnosed during childbirth, childbirth process is made easier with forceps delivery or vacuum delivery procedure.
  • Short umbilical cord cannot be prevented, but its risk can be made lesser by avoiding cigarette and alcohol consumption during pregnancy. If the pregnant woman is known diabetic, a good control over blood sugar can be useful.