Birth Injuries: Umbilical Cord Compression

Thursday, April 6, 2023

Birth Injuries: Umbilical Cord Compression

Written by Malman Law, reviewed by Steve J. Malman.

In the most basic terms, umbilical cord compression happens when the weight of the baby, the placenta, or vaginal walls constrict the cord during labor, pregnancy, or delivery. When this occurs, it can obstruct oxygen and blood flow to the baby.

What you may not know is that this medical condition is relatively commonplace. In fact, the American Pregnancy Association says that one out of every ten births involves compression. It may lead to brain damage, fetal malnourishment, or death. Therefore, a doctor must treat this problem immediately.

What Is the Function of the Umbilical Cord?

The umbilical cord represents an infant’s lifeline as the child develops in the womb. It transports vital nutrients, blood, and oxygen to the fetus, ensuring that the child grows to term. It also transports the waste of the fetus to the placenta.

Common Causes for Umbilical Cord Compression


One of the major reasons an umbilical cord may compress has to do with prolapse. In these cases, the umbilical cord descends into the birth canal after a mother’s water breaks but before the infant enters the canal. As the fetus descends, it may compress the cord, which cuts off or reduces the baby’s oxygen supply. A prolapse into the cervix occurs, on average, about 3 to 4 times for every 1,000 pregnancies. About 57% happen about 5 minutes after the membrane ruptures.

Nuchal Cord

When the umbilical cord wraps around the infant’s neck, it is referred to as a nuchal cord. This may happen if the umbilical cord is overly long, or more than 60 centimeters, or almost two feet in length.

Knotted Cord

Although rarer, a knotted cord happens when the umbilical cord knots as the fetus moves inside the womb. If the cord becomes dangerously tight and leads to compression.

Uterine Contractions

During uterine contractions, cord compressions will occur temporarily and naturally. While the baby usually develops normally through the trimesters, they may require medical attention in some instances.

Risks Associated with Umbilical Cord Compression

Certain risks increase the risk of umbilical cord compression, including:

  • Multiple gestations (such as the development of twin fetuses)
  • An abnormally long umbilical cord (learn also about marginal cord insertion)
  • Hydramnios (additional amniotic fluid)
  • A breech birth, where the baby descends bottom first from the birth canal)
  • Premature births

How the fetus is positioned in the womb may also increase the likelihood of umbilical cord compression or birth injury. Positions may be defined as follows:

  • Unstable lie – The fetus shifts and moves repeatedly during the remaining 14 to 21 days of pregnancy.
  • Oblique lie – The head of the baby is near the hip, with the body and head positioned diagonally in the woman’s pelvis.
  • Traverse lie – The baby lies sideways inside the birth canal

When umbilical compression occurs, it restricts the flow of oxygen and blood to the fetus, which may lead to medical problems like hypoxia (low oxygen levels) and ischemia (low levels of blood and oxygen).

If the physician does not diagnose the condition, it can lead to behavioral abnormalities, fetal heart problems, poor physical development, or brain-related damage (such as cerebral palsy).

Umbilical Cord Compression and Medical Malpractice

Umbilical cord compression can result in serious health complications for the fetus, including brain damage, developmental delays, or even death. Unfortunately, medical malpractice can sometimes play a role in causing or exacerbating umbilical cord compression, leading to devastating consequences for both the mother and the child.

When umbilical cord compression occurs, it is crucial that medical professionals recognize the signs and take appropriate action to prevent further damage. Signs of umbilical cord compression can include changes in the baby’s heart rate (either slowing or speeding up), decreased fetal movement, or changes in the mother’s contractions. If left untreated, umbilical cord compression can result in serious complications, such as cerebral palsy, intellectual disabilities, or even stillbirth.

Unfortunately, medical malpractice can sometimes lead to delayed recognition of umbilical cord compression, resulting in devastating consequences for both the mother and the child. For example, if a healthcare provider fails to properly monitor the baby’s heart rate or fails to recognize signs of umbilical cord compression, the baby may not receive timely treatment to relieve the pressure on the cord. This can lead to long-term health complications, such as brain damage or developmental delays.

In other cases, medical malpractice can contribute to the occurrence of umbilical cord compression. For example, if a healthcare provider uses excessive force or instruments during delivery, they may inadvertently cause the umbilical cord to become compressed. Similarly, if a healthcare provider fails to properly manage a prolapsed cord, this can lead to umbilical cord compression and serious health complications for the baby.

If you suspect that medical malpractice may have played a role in your child’s umbilical cord compression, it is important to seek legal advice as soon as possible. An experienced medical malpractice attorney can help you understand your legal rights and options and can assist you in pursuing compensation for your child’s injuries.

To prove a case of medical malpractice related to umbilical cord compression, you will need to show that the healthcare provider breached the standard of care owed to you and your child and that this breach caused your child’s injuries. This can be a complex and challenging process, and it is important to work with an attorney who has experience in handling these types of cases.

Umbilical cord compression is a serious medical condition that can lead to devastating consequences for both the mother and the child. When medical malpractice plays a role in causing or exacerbating this condition, it is important to seek legal advice and pursue compensation for your child’s injuries. By holding negligent healthcare providers accountable, you can help ensure that other families do not have to suffer the same devastating consequences.

Contact a Personal Injury Attorney about Your Birth Injury Claim Now

If your infant is suffering from a condition related to umbilical cord compression, contact a personal injury attorney right away. In Illinois, schedule an appointment with Malman Law to learn more about your rights.

Steve Malman

Malman Law’s founder Attorney Steven Malman has over 30 years of experience handling personal injury, nursing home, medical malpractice, truck accidents, car accidents, premises liability, construction, and workers’ compensation cases in Chicago, IL.

Years of experience: +30 years
Justia Profile: Steve Malman
Illinois Registration Status: Active and authorized to practice law—Last Registered Year: 2024

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