All about the umbilical cord

Formed between the fourth and eighth week of gestation, the umbilical cord provides vital exchanges between the fetal blood and the placenta. Thanks to him, your baby receives the necessary oxygen and nutrients.

What does the umbilical cord involve?

Inside the umbilical cord circulate three blood vessels: two arteries and a vein, resting in a kind of gelatinous tissue called “Wharton’s jelly”. The umbilical vein provides the fetus with oxygen-rich blood, nutrients (mineral salts, amino acids, glucose …), but also antibodies or hormones from the placenta. Fetal venous blood, rich in carbon dioxide, is transported by the umbilical arteries to the placenta to be “cleansed”.

What does the umbilical cord look like?

At birth, the cord measures about 55 cm and 1.5 cm in diameter. It has a helical shape. Its color is pearly white.

Are all umbilical cords similar?

No. Some umbilical cords are a little special: too short (less than 30 cm) or on the contrary too long (more than a meter). Others may have a knot formed during your baby’s many spats. This last situation can be serious and decrease the supply of oxygen necessary for the baby. Sometimes the cord may wrap around a baby’s arm (shoulder strap), leg or neck (circular). It is difficult to distinguish these features on ultrasound and most often they are only discovered at birth. Most of the time, if they are cowardly, they do not cause any mischief and the cordon continues to ensure the necessary exchanges. On the other hand, if the winding is tight or multiple, the oxygenated blood supply can be reduced at the time of the contractions and force the doctor to leave your baby more quickly. Rarely (2% of pregnancies), the cord may contain only one umbilical artery. Often diagnosed on ultrasound during pregnancy, this discovery may be indicative of a urogenital or cardiac malformation.

What can the umbilical cord reveal?

The umbilical cord provides valuable information on the health of the baby through various examinations carried out during pregnancy or after birth. Umbilical artery ultrasound exploration, using Doppler, is used to study the resistance of the placenta and to show, when they rise, an intrauterine growth retardation. In order to diagnose certain infectious diseases (rubella, toxoplasmosis), blood or chromosomes at an advanced stage of pregnancy, fetal blood drawn directly from the cord is taken from the cordocentesis. This delicate technique, performed under ultrasound, can be used from the 18th week of pregnancy until the end and allows to obtain fast results (3 days). Sometimes a baby needs special care after birth. The pediatrician can assess the extent of fetal distress that has occurred during labor because of biological assays (pH, lactates) in the cord blood.

What is the role of the umbilical cord at the time of birth?

It’s at the moment of birth that your baby breathes air for the first time. This event quickly leads to major changes: the fetal circulatory system is changing, a new sense of blood flow is emerging, his lungs begin to ensure the exchange of gas, then blood circulation in the cord is interrupted in a few minutes. The baby is now breathing independently. It is time to cut the cord! The clamping of the cord is done by the installation of two clamps separated by about ten centimeters. Then the midwife cuts the cord between the forceps. Near the baby’s abdomen, she puts a sterile forceps called Barr’s forceps, and cuts the remaining piece of cord 1 cm away from the forceps. A sterile gauze held by a band around the baby’s stomach is then put in place.

What is done with the umbilical cord after birth?

Most of the time, it is thrown after birth, but cord blood donation can be used to save lives. Collected by accredited laboratories, the cells contained in the cord blood are used to treat blood diseases such as leukemia. Information from the French Blood Establishment.

Does the umbilical cord require special care?

The small piece of cord remaining is no longer vascularized, it will dry out, blacken and fall in general from 10 to 21 days after birth. In its place, will form the navel. At the maternity ward and at home, cord care is needed to heal perfectly. Often apprehended by the mother, they are actually very simple and not painful for the baby. Gather everything you need to heal your baby’s umbilicus. A baby is getting cold very quickly. Once it is installed on the changing table, care must be fast and effective.

The most important thing is to keep the cord clean and dry. At the time of bathing or outside if it is wet or soiled, the cord is washed with soap and then dried with a compress. An antiseptic is applied. Then, another compress is applied around the forceps, which is removed around the 3rd day. Once the clip is removed, the cord is left in the open air. The care must be continued until complete healing.