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What is the umbilical cord?

Posted by Be Well

What is the umbilical cord?
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The umbilical cord connects a baby in the womb to its mother. The cord runs from an opening in your baby's stomach (the umbilicus) to the placenta in your womb. The average umbilical cord is about 50 cm (20 inches) long.

What does the umbilical cord do?

Blood circulates through the cord, carrying oxygen and food to your unborn baby and taking away waste. Inside the cord are one vein and two arteries. These umbilical blood vessels are enclosed and protected by a sticky substance called Wharton's jelly, which itself is covered by a layer of membrane called the amnion.

The vein carries blood rich in oxygen and nutrients from you to your baby. The arteries return deoxygenated blood and waste products, such as carbon dioxide, from your baby back to the placenta. Antibodies also pass between you and your baby, to fight against bacteria, viruses and disease.

What happens after my baby is born?

Soon after the birth, the midwife will clamp the umbilical cord about 3-4 cm (1½-2 inches) from your baby's navel (belly button) with a plastic clip. Another clamp will be placed at the other end of the cord, near the placenta. The cord is then cut between the two clamps, leaving a stump about 2-3 cm (1-1½ inches) long on the baby's belly button.

There are no nerves in the cord, so cutting it isn't painful either for you or your baby. You can ask to have the baby lifted straight on to you before the cord is cut, so that you can be close to each other immediately.

Between 5 and 15 days after your baby is born, the umbilical stump will dry out, turn black and drop off. Until this happens, it's important to keep your baby's belly button clean and dry to prevent infection. After the stump comes off, it usually takes about 7 to 10 days for the belly button to heal completely. It's important to keep the area clean and dry during this time too.


If you notice any bleeding or discharge from your baby's belly button, ask your doctor for advice.

After a baby is born, the midwife may take a sample of the blood in the umbilical cord. This depends on the circumstances of the mother and baby. It may be done, for example, to check the rhesus type of the baby's blood or to test for sickle-cell anemia.

Occasionally, there is only one artery in the umbilical cord. Known as a single umbilical artery, this affects between one in 100 and one in 500 pregnancies. Its cause is not yet known. One artery is sufficient to support an unborn baby through pregnancy and does not necessarily indicate problems. However, a single umbilical artery does increase the risk of the baby being born with difficulties such as heart, skeletal, intestinal and kidney problems.

Always speak to your midwife or doctor if you are concerned about any aspect of your health when you are pregnant.

NOTICE: The information provided on this site is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Never delay or disregard seeking professional medical advice from your physician or other qualified health provider because of something you have read on Wellsphere. If you have a medical emergency, call your doctor or 911 immediately.
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