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