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16 Cool Facts About Umbilical Cords

There is a tie that binds you and the baby. It was physically there in the womb, tethering your baby to your body, as the umbilical cord. And that cord not only nourishes your baby while it is in your womb but it symbolizes the link that will forever be there.

And the severing of that cord — no matter whether you choose the traditional father's rite of passage or a new trend — is a big moment for your baby. Symbolically, the cutting of the cord begins your baby's life on its own, separate from its mother, although still so dependent on her for nutrition.

The umbilical cord is an amazing organ, which forms early on in pregnancy and does a lot to make sure that your body remains healthy. It can be baby's first toy — and also baby's first necklace. It can be a way of bringing your family into your delivery and a way of saving lives after it.

Doctors are still discovering more and more about the umbilical cord, which could hold the key to treating up to 80 diseases. And the research is also evolving into what is best for a mom and baby.

All babies lose their umbilical cords, whether it is within the moments after birth or within a few weeks. Then, your baby's belly button serves as a reminder of that symbolic link that never goes away.

Here are 16 cool facts about the amazing umbilical cord.

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16 What Came First 

Just a few weeks after the egg and sperm meet, and the baby's umbilical cord forms as a connection between the placenta and the embryo. The baby is a little more than a heart and neural tube, when the cord forms at about the seventh week of your pregnancy.

That cord starts small, but it grows as your baby grows, sharing blood, vitamins, nutrients and energy so that your baby can grow from its head to its toes. Like the placenta, the umbilical cord is critical to the success of the pregnancy and the health of the baby.

The umbilical cord is known as your baby's lifeline. Without it, your baby could not receive the things that it needs to thrive. It's an amazing component of your baby's support system, and you may feel that cord connection to your baby long after the cord is gone.

15 Lotus Birth

While many moms have gotten on board with the idea of delaying the cord clamp, some have taken that to the extreme. They never clamp the cord — never cut it — instead, they carry around the placenta with the baby until the cord naturally detaches in the same way the stump would.

Proponents say lotus birth can soften the experience for a baby and its family. It forces parents to take the time to gently lift a baby with its original nutrient source, and it eases the transition into the world.

It only takes a week or so for an umbilical stump to detach, so you can expect the entire cord to detach in about the same amount of time. You probably won't leave the house much in that time anyway, so it may not be much of a burden to carry around the placenta. It all depends on your own comfort level.

14 Burn, Baby, Burn

Another new birth trend is rooted in many long-standing cultures. Lately, instead of cutting the umbilical cord, many parents opt to burn it instead.

Similar to the delayed cord clamping and lotus birth trends, the idea behind burning the cord is to take a more natural, less rushed approach. It's an interesting ritual that usually involves holding a candle below the cord, and it can take about 20 minutes. It shouldn't begin until after the cord stops pulsing.

Some people believe that burning the cord is better for decreasing the risk of infection. The heat can create a clot that is sterile and bloodless, and it doesn't have any effect on the baby.

The idea is still catching on. It may be a crunchy mom's dream, but it may make other parents feel squeamish. One thing is certain, you will know right away if the option feels right to you.

13 It Can Save The Baby's Life

For about two decades, doctors have used umbilical cord stem cells to research and treat a number of life-threatening illnesses. Through cord blood banking, parents have the option of storing the cells so that they can help someone who needs them — potentially even your own baby. Stem cells have the potential to treat leukemia and other cancers as well as immune and metabolic disorders. In all, doctors are investigating the potential to help with more than 80 diseases.

Cord blood banking can be really expensive, especially if you choose to store the blood in case of a possible illness in your family. It may be cheaper to donate your baby's cord blood so that anyone who matches can use the cells.

If you choose to go through with it, there are several companies to consider, who will provide kits for your doctor to extract the blood at your baby's birth. Be sure to do your research before you head into the delivery room.

12 Baby's First Toy

Inside the womb, your baby is busy practicing how to live once it is born. He or she can be very active, moving and kicking. You may see your little bundle of joy sucking its thumb or stretching its fingers and toes. Some babies even play with their umbilical cord.

For your little one, the umbilical cord is as much as part of them as their toes or their fingers, so they can often be seen in ultrasounds touching their cords or even playing with them. Don't worry about it. Your baby can't pull hard enough to detach your placenta or hurt themselves, and it rarely causes a problem if it wraps around their limbs or their neck.

Think of it like your baby's first toy or soother. Pretty soon, they will have more options to explore, but for now, let them enjoy it.

11 Three Blood Vessels

The baby's umbilical cord's most important job is to carry oxygen and nourishment to your bundle of joy. It's the main source connecting you to the baby, so that what you eat, the baby also eats. It is a connection that include three blood vessels. The first is a vein that sends blood — filled with oxygen and nutrients — from you to your baby. The other two are arteries. Arteries carry blood the other direction — from your baby to you. That blood doesn't have oxygen. Instead, it has the waste products such as carbon dioxide, and it goes back to your placenta.

These blood vessels are the way the baby is connected to the placenta, and the blood flows throughout the pregnancy and through the labor and delivery. Some women believe that a medical professional should wait until after the blood stops flowing to cut the cord.

10 Sometimes Only Two

Cutting umbilical cord of new born

There are rare cases when umbilical cords are missing an artery. It happens in about 1 percent of pregnancies is it more common if you are pregnant with multiples.

A single umbilical artery is a sign that there may be problems with the baby or babies — and about 20 percent have babies end up with a health problem. When doctors notice the issue, they will likely schedule an ultrasound to investigate even further.

The doctor may also suggest amniocentesis, where a doctor inserts a needle into your womb to get some amniotic fluid out for testing of genetic conditions. And your health care provider may also schedule an echocardiogram to test to make sure the baby's heart is OK.

The good news is that 80 percent of babies with single umbilical arteries are just fine, so don't worry too much. And if something is wrong, the doctors are keeping an eye on things. so they should be able to help.

9 It's Super Long

How long would you guess your baby's umbilical cord is? The size of your pinky? Maybe a foot? What if we told you the umbilical cord can be up to one metre long! I know, how does it fit, right? Well it does.

The cord actually grows along with your baby, and by the time you head into the delivery room, it is nearly two feet long. The average is about 22 inches, which is just a couple inches shy of two feet, but there are cases where cords have been twice that size.

There are exemptions, but when the umbilical cord is too long or too short it is usually a sign that something is wrong. Once you realize how long the cord is, it is easier to imagine how it sometimes gets tied into knots, isn't it? We'll talk more about that issue later, but you can just visualize it, can't you?

8 Ready For This Jelly

Surrounding the vein and arteries in your baby's cord is a thick substance known as Wharton's Jelly. It sounds gross, yes - but the jelly keeps the cord soft and protects the blood vessels, allowing the blood to continue to flow even when it becomes knotted.

The stem cells that are found in the Wharton's Jelly may have the power to save lives. As previously mentioned, the umbilical cord can help patients diagnosed with leukemia but also, doctors are researching whether it has benefits for patients who have suffered traumatic brain injuries.

Sometimes, the baby's cord can have too little Wharton's jelly, and that can be a sign that something isn't quite right. And the danger of a cord issue is higher. Doctors will be sure to keep an eye on you and your baby if they find that the cord is lacking.

7 Tied In Knots

A long, thin rope in your womb is likely to get looped, especially if you have an active baby who is moving around a lot. Thus, it is pretty likely for a cord knot to develop.

Cord knots happen in one out of every 100 pregnancies, but it rarely causes a problem for the baby. The Wharton's jelly provides a pretty good cushion for the blood vessels inside and allows them to continue flowing almost all of the time. True tight knots occur in about one in 2,000 deliveries and are most likely to affect babies that have extra long cords or are really big for their gestational age. It also happens for multiples.

Doctors think that the worst problems occur when the baby doesn't have the best nutrients, so be sure to follow your doctor's recommendations and don't drink or smoke. Also, pay attention to your baby's activity level and let your doctor know if you notice a change.

True knots that occur during labor often cause the baby's heart rate to decrease. Doctors and midwives are watching for that signal that there is a problem, and it may be a reason to rush you to the operating room for a C-section.

6 Wrapped Around The Baby's Neck

As we mentioned before, your baby's cord can be very long, and in the womb, it can get wrapped all around your baby. A cord accident can end in tragedy, but your baby isn't necessarily in danger if it becomes wrapped around his or her neck.

In fact, one baby out of three is born with the cord wrapped around its neck, and many times you may not even know it. Doctors have determined that the position isn't necessarily a reason to opt for C-section, and at times doctors and midwives can easily pull the cord from around the neck while your baby is crowning.

Some babies wear their cords like necklaces and come out with two or three loops. That can be a problem if it affects the ability of the baby to fit out of the vagina, but that isn't common. Most of the time, it isn't a problem at all.

5 It Gets In The Way

While a cord wrapped around a baby's neck isn't always a danger, it can be a big problem if the cord gets in the way during labor and delivery. About one in 10 deliveries have an umbilical cord compression, but luckily the majority of them are mild cases.

An umbilical cord prolapse is when the cord starts to come through the cervix before the baby's head. If a portion of the cord is out first, it is likely that it will get quite compressed by the baby's head in the birth canal. That could certainly result in a loss of blood flow, and if it takes a while to complete the pushing phase, that could deprive the baby of oxygen during delivery.

A cord prolapse happens most often when delivery starts with a premature rupture of membranes (water breaking) before 32 weeks gestation.

Doctors can sometimes diagnose a prolapsed cord with an ultrasound, and it can sometimes be treated. But if the baby is showing signs of distress, doctors are likely going to recommend a C-section.

4 New Dad's Rite Of Passage

Let's face it; dads don't play a big role in the delivery room. Sure, they provide support for the mom, help make decisions in a pinch and maybe lighten the mood with a good joke or two. A more hands-on dad might fetch the ice chips, give his laboring partner a massage and a hand to hold and be the go-between between the mom and the doctor. But otherwise they feel kind of useless and maybe in the way while a mom is delivering her baby.

Ever since doctors started letting dads in the delivery room, though, they did hold one special job aside for the father. After the baby has been safely delivered, the doctor will often hand over the scissors to let a dad cut the umbilical cord. For some dads, that is a point of pride and a first chance to do something physically for their baby. It's become a part of the American lexicon, although new trends are changing the procedure.

It can be a rite of passage for fatherhood, long before he has to teach his kid to drive or to change a tire or get out the shotgun for his daughter's first date. There's something magical about that moment for a new dad.

3 Keeps Working After The Baby Is Born

These days, many moms choose to go with delayed cord clamping. Instead of cutting the cord before the placenta is delivered, they wait a while — whether that be for a few minutes or until the cord stops pulsating before cutting.

You see, an umbilical cord keeps working for a while after the baby is born. It can sometimes take half an hour or so before the blood flow stops, and researchers are finding benefits to waiting until that natural conclusion of the cord's lifecycle.

Delayed cord clamping can boost the blood volume for the baby and the mother, and it helps cut down on iron deficiencies and anemia for both. For preemies, the umbilical cord can provide even more benefits, reducing the risk for bleeding n the brain and late-onset sepsis, as well as helping increase oxygen flow and reducing the need for help in breathing.

2 Be Careful With It

Unless you chose a lotus birth, your baby will keep its umbilical cord stump for a week or two, maybe even three weeks. Doctors usually trim the stump so that it won't interfere much with your baby, but you have to be a bit careful for a while.

Consider skipping the onesies for the first few weeks in favor of T-shirts that give the belly a chance to breathe. Fold the top of the baby's diaper down so it doesn't irritate it, and give sponge baths instead of soaking in the tub.

You don't have to use alcohol pads to clean the stump, although your mom probably did that with yours. These days, doctors recommend you be careful to just keep the area dry and wait for it to fall off. Infection is a possibility, but it is rare. Call your doctor if you notice that the area is red and tender and gives off a smell or a discharge.

Before long, your baby's umbilical cord stump will fall off on its own, and you'll get to kiss his or her little belly button.

1 An Innie Or An Outie?

Yes, your baby's belly button is determined by his or her umbilical cord, but the cutting has nothing to do with it. Instead, doctors think that a baby's belly button shape is determined while they are still in the womb.

Most babies are innies. True outies are formed when skin grows around the umbilical cord while it is still in the womb. Sometimes, though an umbilical hernia can happen after a baby is born. The intestines push the belly button out because of an issue in the muscle wall. For most kids, that is corrected on its own by the time they go to kindergarten, but some kids need surgery.

A baby's belly button is a physical reminder of the connection that it once had with its mother. It's a sweet spot to tickle or kiss your newborn, and it will forever link you to your baby.

Sources: BabyCenter.com, TodaysParent.com, WhatToExpect.com, AmericanPregnancy.org

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