Objective: The best practices for the care of a neonate born after a tight nuchal cord have not been defined. As a step toward this, we compared the outcomes of neonates born after a tight nuchal cord vs those born after a loose nuchal cord vs those born after no nuchal cord.
Study design: This was a retrospective comparison using electronic data of all deliveries during a 6-year period (2005 to 2010) in a multihospital healthcare system in the western United States. At the time of delivery, each birth was recorded as having a tight nuchal cord, a loose nuchal cord or no nuchal cord. Nuchal cord was defined as a loop of umbilical cord ≥360° around the fetal neck. 'Tight' was defined as the inability to manually reduce the loop over the fetal head, and 'loose' as the ability to manually reduce the loop over the head.
Result: Of 219,337 live births in this period, 6.6% had a tight nuchal cord and 21.6% had a loose nuchal cord. Owing to the very large number of subjects, several intergroup differences were statistically significant but all were judged as too small for clinical significance. For instance, those with a tight nuchal cord had a very slightly older gestational age, a very slightly lower birth weight, a preponderance of male fetuses, primagravid women, singleton pregnancies and shoulder dystocia (all P<0.001). Term neonates with a tight nuchal cord were slightly more likely to be admitted to a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (6.6% vs 5.9% admission rate, P=0.000). Those with a tight nuchal cord were not more likely to have dopamine administered or blood hemoglobin measured on the first day, nor were they more likely to receive a transfusion or to die. The subset of very low birth weight neonates with a tight nuchal cord, compared with those with no nuchal cord, were of the same gestational age and birth weight, with the same Apgar scores, and were not more likely to have severe intraventrucular hemorrhage, retinopathy of prematurity or periventricular leukomalacia, or to die.
Conclusion: The presence of a tight nuchal cord is not uncommon, occurring in 6.6% of over 200,000 consecutive live births in a multihospital health system. No differences in demographics or outcomes, judged as clinically significant, were associated with a tight nuchal cord. Thus, we speculate that the best practices for neonatal care after a tight nuchal cord do not involve an obligation to conduct extra laboratory studies or extra monitoring solely on the basis of the report of a tight nuchal cord.