In a normal delivery, the baby exits the mother before the umbilical cord. With umbilical cord prolapse, this order is reversed, often when the mother’s ‘water breaks’ and the baby is moving into the birth canal. This is an obstetrical emergency because the cord is at high risk for compression, blocking oxygen and blood flow to the baby. In these cases, an emergency C-section is often necessary, with recommendations stating that they should occur less than 12 minutes from the onset of signs of fetal distress.
Prolapsed cord is considered an obstetrical emergency because the cord can become compressed between the baby’s body and the uterus, cervix, or pelvis during delivery. If this occurs, the oxygen and blood to the baby can be partially blocked or completely cut off and the baby must be delivered immediately.