Umbilical cord
Short cord

Author: Paul J. Kowalski, M.D. (see Authors page)

Revised: 2 August 2017, last major update July 2017

Copyright: (c) 2002-2017,, Inc.

PubMed Search: Placenta (umbilical cord [title]) (short cord)

Cite this page: Short cord. website. Accessed August 18th, 2017.
Definition / general
  • Decrease in the absolute length of the umbilical cord
Essential features
  • Variably defined but short umbilical cords measure less than 35 cm in absolute length
  • Usually best measured at the time of delivery, as the umbilical cord tends to slightly shrink in the few hours following delivery and a small portion of the umbilical cord is left attached to the infant following delivery
  • Absolute length of the umbilical cord can vary from its functional length, such as when additional pathology limits the length of the physical cord (as seen with umbilical knots, nuchal cords, cord entanglements, etc.)
  • Incidence is 1 - 2% when using < 35 cm as a cutoff; incidence is < 1% when using < 32 cm as a cutoff
  • Uncertain but a propensity for shorter cords (or cord length in general) in some patients suggest a genetic etiology
  • Not well understand, although fetal movement may stimulate elongation of the cord and fetuses with decreased intrauterine movement tend to possess shorter cords
Clinical features
  • Increased traction on the placenta during delivery underlies many of the clinical features:
    • Placental abruption
    • Cord rupture
    • Cord hemorrhage or hematoma
  • Obstetric conditions include delayed second phase of labor, fetal distress, low Apgar scores and uterine inversion
  • Developmental defects in the fetal abdominal wall can also be associated with a short umbilical cord
Case reports
Gross description
  • Absolute / true length less than 35 cm; most accurately assessed at the time of delivery
Gross images

Images hosted on other servers:

Short umbilical cord sequence (SUCS)

Microscopic (histologic) description
  • No significant histopathologic changes are associated with a short umbilical cord
Board review question #1
All of the following are associated with short umbilical cords, except:

  1. A poorly understood etiology, although a genetic predisposition is possible
  2. Cord length is most accurately measured at the time of delivery
  3. Defined as an absolute cord length less than 35 cm
  4. Includes functionally shortened cords, such as with nuchal cords
  5. Potential traction phenomena on the placenta
Board review answer #1
D. Includes functionally shortened cords, such as with nuchal cords