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Nuchal Cord | Glossary of Pregnancy & Baby Term

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  • Bambino Mio
  • 31 / 07 / 2023

What is a nuchal cord?

A nuchal cord (1) is an umbilical cord that’s become wrapped around a baby’s neck. This can occur at any time during pregnancy, labour and birth.


The umbilical cord gives your baby all the oxygen, blood and nutrients they need so it can be worrying to think that there might be a problem, but the vast majority of nuchal cords don’t affect the baby in any way.


How common is a nuchal cord?

Very common. More than 30% of babies are born (in perfect health) with the cord wrapped around their neck (2).


What causes the cord to become wrapped around the baby’s neck?

A major cause of nuchal cord is your baby’s movements in the womb (3). Babies can be very active and turn around a lot, with many babies grasping at the cord during the later stages of pregnancy. It’s easy to see how this can lead to a nuchal cord.


The good news is that most umbilical cords have a gelatinous, squashy filling - Wharton’s jelly (4) - which helps to prevent the cord from developing knots, no matter how much the baby moves around.


Some cords have insufficient Wharton’s jelly so this makes a nuchal cord more likely. Other factors which can increase the chance of a nuchal cord include:

Can I do anything to prevent a nuchal cord?

No - nothing you do or don’t do during pregnancy has any bearing on your baby having a nuchal cord. 


You probably won’t even be aware your baby had a nuchal cord when they’re delivered as your midwife will simply move it as it’s such a commonplace event.


Less than 1% of babies are born (6) with a true knot in their cord but even in this case, it’s very rare for the knot to compress the cord enough to cut off blood flow to your baby.


What are the symptoms of a nuchal cord?

There are no symptoms of your baby having a nuchal cord. You won’t feel any different and your baby almost certainly won’t be affected.


Can you see a nuchal cord on an ultrasound scan?

Ultrasound scans (7) are the only way to see a nuchal cord before birth but they’re still difficult to pick out. If you find out at your 20-week scan (8), for example, that your baby has a nuchal cord you might worry, but there’s no need to.


The cord has plenty of time to unravel and even if it doesn’t, your baby will almost certainly be delivered safely, especially if your midwives know about it as they can perform extra monitoring throughout labour (9). They can check your baby’s heartbeat and oxygen levels to make sure they’re still normal and if they do dip, take steps to deliver your baby quickly.

Citations and References

  1. National Institutes of Health (NIH). National Library of Medicine. ‘Cord Around the Neck Syndrome.’ 2012. Web. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3428673
  2. National Institutes of Health (NIH). National Library of Medicine. ‘Cord Around the Neck Syndrome.’ 2012. Web. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3428673
  3. Medical News Today. ‘Everything You Need to Know About Nuchal Cord.’ 2017. Web. www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/319762
  4. National Institutes of Health (NIH). National Library of Medicine. ‘Umbilical Cord-derived Wharton’s Jelly for Regenerative Medicine Applications.’ 2020. Web. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7017504
  5. National Health Service (NHS). ‘Health A to Z. Polyhydramnios (Too Much Amniotic Fluid).’ 2020. Web.  www.nhs.uk/conditions/polyhydramnios
  6. Cleveland Clinic. ‘True Knot in Umbilical Cord.’ 2023. Web. my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/24964-true-knot-in-umbilical-cord
  7. National Health Service (NHS). ‘Your Pregnancy Care. Ultrasound Scans in Pregnancy.’ 2020. Web. www.nhs.uk/pregnancy/your-pregnancy-care/ultrasound-scans
  8. National Health Service (NHS). ‘Your Pregnancy Care. 20-week Screening Scan.’ 2021. Web. www.nhs.uk/pregnancy/your-pregnancy-care/20-week-scan
  9. National Health Service (NHS). ‘Labour. Checks and Monitoring During Labour.’ 2023. Web. www.nhsinform.scot/ready-steady-baby/labour-and-birth/labour/checks-and-monitoring-during-labour