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  • Writer's pictureGillian Holmes

"The cord was wrapped around the baby's neck!!!"

Let’s put this one to bed.

It’s a phrase that I often hear (not surprisingly, because it occurs in 20-30% of births) and it’s usually accompanied by looks of horror. That’s because we’re imagining how it would feel to us, as people who rely on our oxygen supply to come from breathing. So if something was wrapped tightly around our neck – yes, that would restrict our breathing and could be very dangerous.

But a baby in the womb is not breathing yet… in fact, it’s that very cord which is supplying their oxygen. So, unless the cord itself is restricted in some way, having a ‘nuchal cord’ – the technical term – does not necessarily mean disaster. In fact, if a midwife finds that the cord is around the baby’s neck as they’re being born, they usually simply carefully bring it over the baby’s head. Sometimes the baby is born all the way through the loop. If a baby is so tangled in their cord that it is causing them to be stuck mid-way during the birth, the midwife can clamp and cut the cord in order for them to be born – but this is rare.

Some babies turn somersaults inside and even create what’s known as a ‘true knot’ in the umbilical cord – this is seen in some cultures as a great sign of good luck!

Umbilical cords are an amazing part of your baby’s circulatory system – if you can, reach down and feel it pulsing after your baby has been born! You can marvel at how clever your body was to create such a brilliant piece of kit to keep your baby alive throughout your pregnancy. It will continue to pulse after your baby has been born for several minutes, continuing to bring the baby's blood as well as antibodies, iron, stem cells and nutrients from the placenta, as your baby starts to breathe and their entire circulatory system changes to being fed oxygen from their lungs. Miraculous!

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