Pregnancy and birth are everyday miracles. Pregnancy is something we see very often, yet we don’t always realise what a neat and complex process it really is.
Your body is quite amazing. Not only does it grow a baby, it also grows the placenta, the amniotic sac and the umbilical cord. The umbilical cord runs from an opening in baby’s abdomen (his future navel, also known as the belly button) to the placenta, so nutrients and waste can go back and forth between mother and baby.
If you’re getting closer to your baby’s birthday, you might be wondering, how long is the umbilical cord? Is it long enough for baby to exit the womb safely and reach to your chest?
How Long Is The Umbilical Cord?
Just as every baby is unique, so every umbilical cord is also unique. However, the average length of an umbilical cord at birth is about 55cm, with most cords being between 45 and 60cm (18-23 inches) long. The cord reaches its full length around the 28th week of pregnancy.
Earlier in pregnancy, the cord is often similar in length to the crown-to-rump length of the baby.
One very interesting thing about cord length is that your baby’s movement affects the length of the umbilical cord. The more a fetus stretches, moves and flips, the more the cord stretches. If your baby’s cord is long, you just might have a future gymnast on your hands!
Can The Umbilical Cord Be Too Long?
Around 7% of umbilical cords are considered long. The definition of long varies, depending on the source, but a cord is generally considered long if it’s more than 70-80cm.
Typically, long cords are not considered a complication. While nuchal cords (cords wrapped around the neck) occur more frequently with longer cords, around 25-35% of babies are born with the cord around their neck. Although it sounds quite scary, few babies experience any complications from nuchal cords.
Knots and tangles are more common in long cords (although they occur in average length cords too) and sound quite worrisome. However, the umbilical cord contains Wharton’s Jelly, a clear mucous substance which protects umbilical cord vessels from becoming restricted by tangles and knots. This means that even if knots and tangles occur, they rarely restrict umbilical cord blood flow.
Can The Umbilical Cord Be Too Short?
Approximately 6% of umbilical cords are considered short. There isn’t always a clear reason why a baby has a short cord, but there’s a slight correlation with certain congenital abnormalities in baby. If baby has a congenital condition, it’s possible that what caused the condition also caused a short cord. Restricted fetal movement, possibly due to too much or too little amniotic fluid, can also cause a shorter than average cord. If baby is unable to move a lot, he won’t be stretching the cord as much.
A correlation, however, doesn’t mean a definite risk. It simply means there is a connection between two things. In this case, the connection is between a short cord and health complications for baby. It can also mean an increased risk of c-section birth; however, there are documented cases of successful vaginal births with cords as short as 13cm.
A healthy baby can have a shorter than average cord. Due to the correlation, however, your baby’s doctor might monitor him closely as he grows and develops following birth.
Will Baby’s Cord Length Affect Delayed Cord Clamping?
While immediately clamping and cutting of the cord was the norm in recent decades, it’s now becoming a thing of the past. With emerging evidence to support the many benefits of delayed cord clamping, many parents and healthcare providers are waiting to clamp the cord.
However, can your baby’s cord length have an impact on delayed clamping? In most cases, cord length will not affect when you can cut baby’s cord. Even in cases of short cord, baby can be supported on his mother’s lower abdomen while waiting for the cord to stop pulsating. In the case of long cord, baby has plenty of wriggle room to get comfy on mother’s chest while waiting for clamping. If a nuchal cord is present, it can typically be unwrapped, without the need to cut the cord prematurely.
Occasionally, immediate clamping is necessary, due to cord complications, but that’s the exception and not the rule.
Read more about How Long Should I Wait Before Clamping The Umbilical Cord?
Will I Know The Cord Length Before Birth?
While ultrasounds can provide a glimpse in utero, there are limitations. An ultrasound might give a clue, but it’s not possible to make an accurate assessment of cord length before birth. As the cord lengthens, it coils a bit, making it even more challenging to assess its length via ultrasound.
In nearly every case, cord length will only be noticed upon post birth examination.
Umbilical cord length can vary quite a bit. In most cases, the length of baby’s cord is simply a unique characteristic and not indicative of any complications. The length of baby’s cord is unlikely to affect birth, or when you are able to clamp the cord. While occasionally things go wrong with cords, and true cord accidents happen, they’re very rare and not something to be overly concerned about as birth approaches.