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On an average, the umbilical cord length is between 55 and 60 cm. A Short Umbilical Cord is usually defined as an umbilical cord that measures less than 35 cm in length.

What are the other Names for this Condition? (Also known as/Synonyms)

  • Short Cord

What is Short Umbilical Cord? (Definition/Background Information)

  • The length of the umbilical cord is important, since it can affect fetal growth and development. The cord length can also affect the outcome of the pregnancy
  • On an average, the umbilical cord length is between 55 and 60 cm. A Short Umbilical Cord is usually defined as an umbilical cord that measures less than 35 cm in length
  • The placenta is an organ that connects the developing fetus to the uterine wall. It is a disc shaped reddish brown structure that connects the fetus to the mother through the umbilical cord
  • The umbilical cord contains two umbilical arteries and one umbilical vein, providing a connection between maternal and fetal blood circulation
  • The normal function of placenta is to supply nutrients and oxygen to the fetus from the mother’s blood and remove wastes from the fetal body
  • Short Umbilical Cord has been associated with fetal distress, umbilical cord rupture and hemorrhage. Studies have shown that Short Umbilical Cord can cause low Apgar scores. Apgar scores are used to assess the overall health and well-being of a child, immediately after birth
  • Short Umbilical Cord requires appropriate treatment for an optimal outcome. The prognosis is dependent upon the severity of the condition and the stage of pregnancy. Nevertheless, a Short Cord is associated with higher fetal mortality rates
  • Short Cord may not be entirely prevented. However, some risk factors may be avoided, such as smoking and alcohol consumption during pregnancy. Also, maternal diabetes has to be kept under control, to minimize the risk

Who gets Short Umbilical Cord? (Age and Sex Distribution)

  • Short Umbilical Cord is a condition that is observed in about 6% of all pregnancies. It may occur in pregnant women of all ages
  • Women who are pregnant with both male and female fetuses can be affected
  • There is no racial, ethnic, or geographical predilection observed

What are the Risk Factors for Short Umbilical Cord? (Predisposing Factors)

The risk factors for Short Umbilical Cord include:

  • Low body mass index (BMI) of mother
  • History of smoking during pregnancy
  • History of alcohol consumption during pregnancy
  • Gestational diabetes
  • Chromosomal abnormalities such as Down syndrome
  • First pregnancy
  • Female fetus
  • Preforming early amniocentesis procedures in pregnant women
  • Oligohydramnios (decreased fluid in amniotic sac) and polyhydramnios (excess fluid in amniotic sac)

It is important to note that having a risk factor does not mean that one will get the condition. A risk factor increases ones chances of getting a condition compared to an individual without the risk factors. Some risk factors are more important than others.

Also, not having a risk factor does not mean that an individual will not get the condition. It is always important to discuss the effect of risk factors with your healthcare provider.

What are the Causes of Short Umbilical Cord? (Etiology)

  • The exact cause of Short Umbilical Cord is unknown
  • This umbilical cord abnormality is associated with a higher incidence of meconium staining
  • Research is currently being performed to identify the relevant causative factors

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Short Umbilical Cord?

The signs and symptoms of Segmental Thinning of Umbilical Cord may include:

  • Decreased blood flow to the fetus resulting in fetal distress
  • Non-reassuring fetal heart rates

How is Short Umbilical Cord Diagnosed?

The diagnosis of Short Umbilical Cord may involve:

  • Physical examination along with an evaluation of one’s medical history
  • The healthcare provider may check for any signs of fetal distress (such as non-reassuring fetal heart rate)
  • Prenatal ultrasound scan of the developing fetus may reveal Short Umbilical Cord and abnormal biophysical profile
  • A careful examination of the placenta by a pathologist after birth of the child, to macroscopically (gross visual exam) and microscopically analyze the placental tissue may help establish a definitive diagnosis

Many clinical conditions may have similar signs and symptoms. Your healthcare provider may perform additional tests to rule out other clinical conditions to arrive at a definitive diagnosis.

What are the possible Complications of Short Umbilical Cord?

Complications due to Short Umbilical Cord affect both the mother and child. These include:

  • In the mother:
    • Increased incidence of retained placenta
    • Prolonged labor  
    • Inversion of the uterus
    • Abruption of placenta causing severe bleeding (during late pregnancy) affecting the health of both the mother and fetus
  • In the baby:
    • Cerebral palsy
    • Hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy (HIE)     
    • Intrauterine growth retardation (IUGR)
    • Placental disruption, affecting the nutrition of the developing fetus
  • Umbilical cord rupture
  • Increased incidence of breech presentation
  • Miscarriages and stillbirths

How is Short Umbilical Cord Treated?

There is no specific treatment available for Short Umbilical Cord. The following treatment strategies can help improve the outcome and overall health of the newborn.

  • An operative vaginal delivery may have to be performed, if the condition is diagnosed during childbirth. It can help in expediting the process of childbirth. The operative vaginal delivery may be performed using techniques such as forceps delivery and delivery using vacuum extractor
  • If a prenatal diagnosis of the condition has been established, then an elective cesarean section (C-section) delivery may be considered
  • A careful and periodic monitoring of the pregnancy is necessary, since the presence of Short Umbilical Cord is considered to be a high-risk pregnancy

The healthcare provider may decide on the course of action on a case-by-case basis, analyzing all the health issues that are involved.

How can Short Umbilical Cord be Prevented?

Currently, there are no modifiable risks or definitive methods available to prevent Short Umbilical Cord. However, the following factors may be considered:

  • Some studies indicate that not smoking and not consuming alcohol during pregnancy can be beneficial
  • If the woman is a known diabetic before pregnancy, then a good control of diabetes using suitable treatment measures may help
  • If the ultrasound scan indicates an umbilical cord of short length, then careful monitoring of the pregnancy (including the fetal heart rate) is necessary and vital for a successful outcome

What is the Prognosis of Short Umbilical Cord? (Outcomes/Resolutions)

  • The prognosis of Short Umbilical Cord is based on many factors such as the development of the fetus and overall health status of the mother
  • In majority of cases, the prognosis is poor, since multiple complications may develop
  • For the above reasons, a Short Umbilical Cord is considered to be a high-risk pregnancy requiring careful and close monitor

Additional and Relevant Useful Information for Short Umbilical Cord:

The following DoveMed website link is a useful resource for additional information:


What are some Useful Resources for Additional Information?

American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG)
409 12th Street SW, Washington, DC 20024-2188
Phone: (202) 638-5577
Toll-Free: (800) 673-8444
Website: http://www.acog.org

References and Information Sources used for the Article:

Baergen, R. N. (2011). Manual of pathology of the human placenta. Springer Science & Business Media.

Kraus, F. T., Redline, R., Gersell, D. J., Nelson, D. M., & Dicke, J. M. (2004). AFIP atlas of nontumor pathology: placental pathology. Washington, DC: American Registry of Pathology, 117-62.

Creasy RK, Resnik WB: Maternal-Fetal Medicine. 4th ed. WB Saunders; 1999.

Cunningham FC, MacDonald PC, Gant NF, et al: Williams Obstetrics. 21st ed. Appleton and Lange; 2000.

Plauche WC, Morrison JC, OSullivan MJ: Surgical Obstetrics. WB Saunders; 1992.

Robinson JN, Abuhamad AZ: Abdominal wall and umbilical cord anomalies. Obstet Gynecol Clin North Am 2000; 965-975.

Romero R, Pilu G, Jeanty P, et al: Prenatal Diagnosis of Congenital Anomalies . Appleton and Lange; 1992.

Helpful Peer-Reviewed Medical Articles:

Miller, M. E., Higginbottom, M., & Smith, D. W. (1981). Short umbilical cord: its origin and relevance. Pediatrics, 67(5), 618-621.

Krakowiak, P., Smith, E. N., de Bruyn, G., & Lydon-Rochelle, M. T. (2004). Risk factors and outcomes associated with a short umbilical cord. Obstetrics & Gynecology, 103(1), 119-127.

Sørnes, T. (1989). Short umbilical cord as a cause of fetal distress. Acta obstetricia et gynecologica Scandinavica, 68(7), 609-611.

Rosen, R. H. (1953). The short umbilical cord. American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology, 66(6), 1253-1259.

Grange, D. K., Arya, S., Opitz, J. M., Laxova, R., Herrmann, J., & Gilbert, E. F. (1987). The short umbilical cord. Birth defects original article series, 23(1), 191-214.

Bain, C., & Eliot, B. W. (1976). Fetal distress in the first stage of labour associated with early fetal heart rate decelerations and a short umbilical cord. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, 16(1), 51-56.

Barr, M., & Heidelberger, K. P. (1983). Short umbilical cord: Cause or effect of fetal anomalies. In Proc Greenwood Genetic Center (Vol. 2, pp. 100-101).

Collins, J. (1992). The short umbilical cord. American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology166(1), 268-269.