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Cord Coil Complications

Medically reviewed by Mary Rani Cadiz, MD · Obstetrics and Gynecology

Written by Mayvilyn Cabigao · Updated Nov 23, 2023

Cord Coil Complications

The umbilical cord is responsible for transporting blood, nutrients, and oxygen from the placenta to the fetus, as well as for eliminating waste. However, umbilical problems may occur during pregnancy. One of the most common umbilical cord injuries is cord coil. Here’s everything you need to know about cord coil complications.

What is a cord coil?

A cord coil or nuchal cord occurs when the umbilical cord wraps around an unborn child’s neck. This is a fairly common complication that can happen in 15 percent to 35 percent of all pregnancies. Normally, nuchal cords do not cause any complications to the baby or mother. Cord coil complications arise when there are multiple or tight coils, though this is a rare scenario.

Even with a cord coil, most babies can still be delivered vaginally. A cesarean section (C-section) is only needed if the nuchal cord poses a risk to the unborn baby.

What are the types of cord coil?

The two types of nuchal cords are:

Type A nuchal cord or unlocked nuchal cord. This type of nuchal cord is free sliding, meaning that it can spontaneously untangle with fetal movement.

Type B nuchal cord or locked nuchal cord. This is a more complicated type of cord coil where fetal movements cannot undo the coil. Normally, a type B nuchal cord requires a C-section.

What are the causes and risk factors?

A nuchal cord is likely to occur if the:

  • Umbilical cord is too long (normal length is 50 to 60 cm while a long cord is about 100 cm)
  • Fetus is overly active inside the womb
  • Umbilical cord has insufficient Wharton’s jelly (a gelatinous substance that keeps the cord knot-free)
  • Pregnant mother has twins or multiples
  • Umbilical cord has a poor structure
  • Baby is surrounded by an excessive amount of amniotic fluid (polyhydramnios)

There is no way to prevent a nuchal cord, and the doctor can only manage it during delivery. Take note that mothers have nothing to do with the occurrence of cord coils. It is a spontaneous, natural process that cannot be predicted and is quite difficult to detect.

What are the cord coil complications?

Multiple coils, as well as tight coils, pose more of a risk than single or loose coils. Here are the cord coil complications you should know about:

Hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE).  This is a type of brain damage caused by oxygen deprivation and limited blood flow to the brain before or during labor. Babies who experience HIE during birth have a higher risk of developing certain disorders such as cerebral palsy, epilepsy, severe hearing and vision impairment, and motor and behavioral difficulties.

Intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR). This can happen if there are blood flow problems in the umbilical cord. IUGR refers to a baby’s abnormal growth (they are too small for their gestational age) while in the mother’s womb.

Meconium aspiration syndrome. When lacking oxygen, a fetus is forced to breathe deeper. This can lead to the aspiration of amniotic fluid containing meconium or “newborn poop.” Meconium aspiration syndrome is treatable but can result in severe complications like pneumonia, pneumothorax, and brain damage.

Fetal acidosis. This is when the acidity levels of the fetus’ blood rise to dangerous levels. Fetal acidosis is a very serious complication that can lead to brain damage and even death.

Neurodevelopmental abnormalities. A tight cord coil can restrict the flow of blood in the fetus’ brain. This may result in neurodevelopmental abnormalities such as ADHD, autism, Tourette’s syndrome, and developmental coordination disorder.

Stillbirth. This is considered a very rare occurrence, and can take place during the first or second trimester of pregnancy.

How is cord coil diagnosed and treated?

The only way to diagnose a nuchal cord or cord coil is via ultrasound. However, the ultrasound can only show if there are  entanglements; it cannot help the doctors determine if the baby is at risk of any complications.

Sometimes, a cord coil can unravel itself while the baby is still inside the womb. Likewise, the baby can free itself of a cord coil through fetal movements.

In cases where the cord cannot untangle itself, the doctor will be the one to manually slip off the cord from the baby’s neck during delivery. If the baby is showing signs of oxygen deprivation, the attending physician will perform resuscitation to help lower the baby’s risk of brain damage.

Key Takeaways

Any injuries to, in, or with the umbilical cord can be a cause for concern. However, the majority of nuchal cord occurrences aren’t risky. You and the doctors would only know if there’s a possibility of cord coil complications during the baby’s delivery.

There is nothing parents can do to prevent a nuchal cord. If you are diagnosed with a cord coil during your pregnancy, the best thing to do is to stay calm and consult your doctor.

Learn more about pregnancy and birthing complications, here.


Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Medically reviewed by

Mary Rani Cadiz, MD

Obstetrics and Gynecology

Written by Mayvilyn Cabigao · Updated Nov 23, 2023

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