Pregnancy fact or fiction: Umbilical cords

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When I was pregnant with my first child, I had a lot of fears. Some of them were totally unsubstantiated, but all of them were most likely the product of going through a life-altering experience with no real rules or know-how. And of course there were the hormones. My main fear, or at least one of my favorites, was that the baby's umbilical cord would get wrapped around his neck and strangle him.

I used to stop and think, after feeling that fear, that it was ridiculous to be afraid of something so unlikely to happen. Still, the rumor mill persisted on how such a thing could happen. Living in New York, I took the subway all the time. I read somewhere that reaching above your head, and specifically that holding on to a subway bar (instead of sitting down) would cause the umbilical cord casualty. Then, I had my son and everything was ok.

However, it turns out, I know a relatively high number of women whose children were born with their umbilical cords wrapped around their necks. All the children and mothers were thankfully totally fine, but it still scared the bejesus out of me to even think about it. Now I am pregnant again, and those old fears are back. I checked out Dr. Spock, who helped my mom bring me into and up in this world, to see what the real deal with umbilical cords is.

According to Elisa Ross, MD (with revisions by Marjorie Greenfield, MD, whatever that means), it is a very likely situation! There's not a lot of room in the womb, and between the baby, the umbilical cord and everything else in there, it's not surprising to find all those parts pretzeled around each other.

Dr. Ross reminds us, however, that the mother is doing the breathing for both herself and the baby. She also notes that the umbilical cord is designed to stretch when pulled. Most of the time, everything is fine after the doctor takes a little extra time to unwind the cord.

While this made me feel better, what I read after scared me even more. In very rare instances, the umbilical cord can precede the baby into the vagina or birth canal, which is cause for serious concern and usually ends in delivery via Caesarean. Another dreadful possibility is a knotted cord (now that I've read this I won't sleep until my child is born). Generally the knotting occurs at delivery or only looks like a knot but is actually curvature. Knotting has been attributed to some stillborn births but there is really no proof to support this (at least according to Dr. Spock's experts).

As with most complications, the ones mentioned above are thankfully rare. And, sadly enough, we have little control over whether or not they occur. Certainly standing on the subway and holding on to the overhead bar is not going to cause such a problem. And, that sort of makes me feel a little better about the whole thing, somehow.

Do you know someone whose child was born with the umbilical cord wrapped around the neck? Did you ever hear any crazy stories about what could cause such a thing--other than old Mother Nature?

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.