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Umbilical Cord Prolapse

  • Cynthia M. Johnson, MA
Publication Type:


Umbilical Cord Prolapse


The umbilical cord is a wrapped bundle of blood vessels that joins a fetus to the placenta. The placenta is an organ that delivers blood and oxygen to the fetus.

Umbilical cord prolapse is problem that can happen during labor when the cord becomes trapped in the birth canal in front of the baby's head. The pressure on the cord can slow or stop the flow of blood and oxygen to the fetus.

Umbilical Cord Prolapse.

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This problem will most often happen after a person's water has broken. The prolapse is caused by the position of the cord.

Risk Factors

Things may raise the risk are:

  • A narrow pelvis
  • Artificial rupture of membranes to help labor move along
  • A placenta that is attached low in the uterus
  • Having delivered five or more babies in the past
  • Having a baby that is in the breech position
  • Being pregnant with more than one baby
  • Going into labor before 37 weeks
  • A fetus with low birth weight
  • Having too much amniotic fluid
  • Birth defects


An umbilical prolapse will cause a change in the fetus' heart rate. The cord may also be seen after water has broken.


A prolapse is diagnosed if the cord is seen or felt in the birth canal. It may also be checked if the fetus' heart rate is too fast.


Umbilical cord prolapse is an emergency. It is treated by:

  • Taking pressure off the cord—The doctor may be able to move the fetus away from the cord. The person may also be asked to change body positions to ease pressure from the cord and protect the fetus.
  • Rapid vaginal delivery—If the person is fully dilated, tools may be used to help the delivery.
  • Emergency C-section—If the baby cannot be quickly or safely delivered vaginally.
Cesarean Delivery.

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There are no known methods to prevent this health problem.





  • Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG). Umbilical cord prolapse. Green-top Guideline No. 50. RCOG 2014.
  • Umbilical cord prolapse. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/umbilical-cord-prolapse. Accessed October 19, 2020.


  • Elizabeth Margaret Prusak, MD
Last Updated:

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.