What is a nuchal cord or loop?

Sometimes the umbilical cord may become wrapped around a part of a developing baby’s body. This is most often found around the baby’s neck and happens when the baby moves through a loop of the cord. Less frequently, the umbilical cord becomes wrapped around other body parts, such as a foot or hand. Generally, this doesn’t harm babies and they are born healthy.

Believe it or not, this happens more often than you might think. One loop around the neck occurs in approximately 20% of pregnancies, while multiple loops occur in 5% of cases. Again, most of the time, everything is fine.

Sometimes, though, fetal monitoring shows heart rate abnormalities during labor and delivery in babies with a nuchal cord. This may be as a result of pressure on the cord.  Doppler ultrasound usually can detect any nuchal loops. Even then, the pressure is rarely serious enough to cause death or any lasting problems. A nuchal loop alone is not a reason to change a woman’s birth plan. Occasionally, a cesarean delivery may be needed if multiple loops are involved or the baby’s heart rate appears to be seriously effected.