Magic Umbilical Cords

I am amazed by just about everything having to do with birth….mothers, the creation of babies from a sperm and egg, the childbirth process, the placenta, the umbilical cord…

Aaahhhh….that umbilical cord. That magical connection that grows life. It filters, it provides, it knows when to start and it knows when baby no longer needs it.

 For more information about the umbilical cord and it’s importance at birth, please see my supplemental blog post here – Clamping Umbilical Cords

I’ve often tried to explain to people the incredible changes that happen at birth – including to the umbilical cord – but I’ve had a hard time finding images to demonstrate what I’m trying to explain.

Until now! I recently attended a birth and asked the mother permission to take photographs of her baby’s umbilical cord to document the changes it goes through after the birth – and she said yes!

Umbilical cords have two arteries and a vein that run the length of it. Those three vessels are surrounded by a special substance called Wharton’s Jelly. This jelly is thick and gelatinous when functional – this is to prevent the baby from accidentally causing it to kink and stop functioning (even true knots in the cord rarely cause problems because the Wharton’s Jelly prevents it from being able to tighten down and occlude blood flow to baby!)

When baby is born, this cord continues to function, providing the baby with not only blood and oxygen – but providing baby TIME! Time to transition to air breathing, experiencing the changes that babies go through at birth. As long as that cord is pulsing, it’s working for the baby the exact same way it did before the baby came out.

Once baby’s breathing and the cord is no longer needed, it goes through its own transformation. The Wharton’s Jelly in the cord begins to liquefy…tightening down on those vessels…clamping them off naturally. The cord slowly becomes thin, white, limp – dramatic changes from the thick purple pulsing entity it was when the baby was born!

Not clamping or cutting the cord until this transformation has occurred provides the baby with the benefit of extra blood, oxygen, gentleness and time!

Here you can see the magical changes of the cord! These pictures are ALL of the same umbilical cord…progressively taken over time.




Brand new! Right after birth the cord is thick, pulsing. We could actually SEE it thumping with the baby’s heartbeat.


There’s already a difference!! Look at how much thinner it is – less purple, less ‘tight’…


Less purple…thinner….


same piece of cord, same angle….now MUCH whiter, much thinner. But still not done with the transformation! You might think so though, huh! No…just wait.


NOW we are pretty much finished with the transformation. Compare this to the top picture of the same piece of cord….


Completely done, Wharton’s Jelly has liquified, the cord is not pulsing…it is thin, white, and very limp. Amazing!


And here they are all in a row for you to see…..


  1. Melissa J wrote:

    Fascinating. Thanks for sharing!

    Friday, October 14, 2011 at 10:48 pm | Permalink
  2. Thank you so much for this series of photos! It is wonderful glimpse at the importance of delayed clamping! May I use this photo series in the education of birth doulas and CBE as well as new families? I will of course, give you credit for the fantastic pictures! Please let me know!

    Friday, October 14, 2011 at 11:16 pm | Permalink
  3. elfanie wrote:

    You bet Sharon…that’s why we took them, for educational purposes. =)

    Friday, October 14, 2011 at 11:17 pm | Permalink
  4. Trena wrote:

    This is so awesome Stephanie! Thank you.

    Friday, October 14, 2011 at 11:35 pm | Permalink
  5. What a lovely project, the images are fantastic. Thanks for giving approval for others to educate with this photo essay!
    I will provide a link to this page from Cord-Clamping.Com 😀

    Saturday, October 15, 2011 at 1:16 am | Permalink
  6. Soshanna wrote:

    Fantastic! I have been looking for pictures to show my HypnoBirthing clients and these are perfect. Thank you for sharing.

    Saturday, October 15, 2011 at 2:05 am | Permalink
  7. Tiffany wrote:

    Very nice!

    Saturday, October 15, 2011 at 2:17 am | Permalink
  8. Bernie wrote:

    Amazing photos.

    Saturday, October 15, 2011 at 4:19 am | Permalink
  9. Suzi wrote:

    fascinating! just flicked through my photos after my daughter was born and watched the change in hers! amazing!

    Saturday, October 15, 2011 at 5:34 am | Permalink
  10. Shawn Walker wrote:

    Excellent .. you can even see how the arteries empty first, as the vein is still delivering blood back to the baby! Thanks so much for sharing. x

    Saturday, October 15, 2011 at 9:53 am | Permalink
  11. Noelani wrote:

    Awesome visuals! Now I can show my daughters & daughters in law.

    Saturday, October 15, 2011 at 1:02 pm | Permalink
  12. Heather wrote:

    Beautiful series! I can’t help but ask… was this mama a VBAC? I think I see a cesarean scar.
    (I’m a VBAC mama myself, so I tend to look for it!).

    Either way, congrats to this mama. :)

    Saturday, October 15, 2011 at 3:04 pm | Permalink
  13. elfanie wrote:

    No she was not a VBAC…this mother has had two children, both both with NHBS, both homebirths….

    Saturday, October 15, 2011 at 3:18 pm | Permalink
  14. Adrienne wrote:

    Normalizing intact cords language comment…it’s not “extra” blood. It’s the baby’s full complement of blood. Babies whose cords are clamped prematurely are hypovolemic.

    Saturday, October 15, 2011 at 4:57 pm | Permalink
  15. What’s the time span between the first and last photo? Thanks for sharing!

    Saturday, October 15, 2011 at 6:41 pm | Permalink
  16. Juliana wrote:

    completely awe-mazing!

    Saturday, October 15, 2011 at 7:49 pm | Permalink
  17. Linda wrote:

    Recently I heard that delaying cutting the cord can reduce the chances of autism spectrum disorders.

    Saturday, October 15, 2011 at 10:39 pm | Permalink
  18. Mary wrote:

    What was the time at the first and last photos? I love how clearly this demonstrates nature taking care of physiological cord closure.

    Sunday, October 16, 2011 at 12:15 am | Permalink
  19. elfanie wrote:

    As stated in the blog post….the time between the first and last pictures is approximately 15 minutes….

    Sunday, October 16, 2011 at 5:49 am | Permalink
  20. Sharon Zaunmayr wrote:

    thank you my sons were born in peace and freedom with midwives. The oord and placenta an integral part of their births. Not rushed nor neglected, not clamped, no hurry to “finish”. thank you so much

    Sunday, October 16, 2011 at 8:20 am | Permalink
  21. Karen wrote:

    First, excuse my english,I’m french !
    I saw that when i gave birth at home. But we did’nt cut anything, we would like wait that the ombilicom cord fall by itself. And the day after, the cord looks like a little dry peace of wood. The day n°3, the Navel was like mine !

    Sunday, October 16, 2011 at 9:58 am | Permalink
  22. Rachel Davis wrote:

    These photos are such a gift! Thank you for putting this together. I’m passing along your post right now.

    Sunday, October 16, 2011 at 6:25 pm | Permalink
  23. Joy wrote:

    Very awesome! Question – how long did this transformation take place? I just had a baby three weeks ago and about 2 minutes after he was born the cord was that limp, white like your last image. I thought it took longer but perhaps it is different for everyone!

    Sunday, October 16, 2011 at 11:27 pm | Permalink
  24. Heather wrote:

    That’s incredible. I would also like to use those photos for a client handout on delayed cord clamping. Thank you so much for sharing them. :)

    Monday, October 17, 2011 at 11:29 am | Permalink
  25. Stacy Lewis wrote:

    These are amazing images! I always tell my clients about delaying the cord and they ask what it looks like. Now I have a great place to point them to. Thank you so much!

    Monday, October 17, 2011 at 1:55 pm | Permalink
  26. haylee wrote:

    I have picture of a cord with three true knots if you would like them. The Dr.s were astonished that the baby was small but healthy.

    Wednesday, October 19, 2011 at 4:10 pm | Permalink
  27. tammy wrote:

    Excellent post, with great pics! Thank you so much for sharing this. :)

    Friday, October 21, 2011 at 2:41 pm | Permalink
  28. Wow! Those are cool photos. What a great idea to photograph a time sequence. It really shows how beautifully the birth process is designed to work by Nature.

    Friday, October 21, 2011 at 7:28 pm | Permalink
  29. Tamara Curry wrote:

    Thank you for sharing this. After seeing these photos, it REALLY makes no sense to clamp the cord! The photos help make the information click.

    Thursday, November 3, 2011 at 1:38 pm | Permalink
  30. Sam wrote:

    Another “normalizing” comment – prematurely amputating (or cutting the cord before it is done doing its job) increases the risk of autism, lifelong anemia and circulation difficulties.

    Wednesday, November 9, 2011 at 10:40 am | Permalink
  31. Manda wrote:

    Very cool. Thank you for the information and photos!

    Wednesday, November 9, 2011 at 9:22 pm | Permalink
  32. Leah wrote:

    I am due to have a baby in January and my Aunty who is a Midwife told me not to clamp or cut the cord till it stops pulsing, it is great to see her advise backed up. Thanks.

    Friday, November 18, 2011 at 12:43 am | Permalink
  33. This is fabulous! These pictures are awesome. This is a must share. Thank you!

    Saturday, November 19, 2011 at 3:59 pm | Permalink
  34. What a great idea to photograph the changes. Thanks for doing that. This photo series is a wonderful educational tool. Took me years to fully appreciate what was happening in the cord and the way the placenta and cord sustained the baby through those first minutes after birth (variable for everyone). The routine practice of immediately clamping and cutting the cord in medically dominated birth places is gradually being recognised as harmful and photos like this help to graphically demonstrate why that may be so. Thanks again for sharing these photos.

    Saturday, November 19, 2011 at 4:40 pm | Permalink
  35. Maura Barnett wrote:

    I have been longing for this information! Thank you so much for such a great description, information and visual display!! Great work and thank you so much. I want a home birth and this is a huge piece of my puzzle.

    Tuesday, November 22, 2011 at 1:31 am | Permalink
  36. Ola A wrote:

    Marvelous pictures. Very instructive. I lecture about cord clamping and would like to have your permission to use these photos.

    Tuesday, November 22, 2011 at 2:45 am | Permalink
  37. Mary Lanser wrote:

    Of course, it makes perfect sense not to rush cutting the cord that has sustained the babies life for 9 months. Hospitals get in such a hurry to hurry the process along…. and so unnecessary!

    Sunday, December 4, 2011 at 8:55 pm | Permalink
  38. Cord Blood wrote:

    oh golly this is incredible pictures of cord blood.this should be banked!

    Tuesday, December 6, 2011 at 11:55 am | Permalink
  39. elfanie wrote:

    Why should it be banked instead of given to the baby? Why steal from this baby what is hers?

    Tuesday, December 6, 2011 at 12:34 pm | Permalink
  40. Jenni Fernandez wrote:

    Hi there – i teach antenatal classes and hypnobirthing classes in New Zealand – great photos – may i copy and use them as well for educational purposes? giving credit of course as well

    Thursday, December 8, 2011 at 5:37 pm | Permalink
  41. Charlotte wrote:


    I am writing an essay about cord clamping and your pictures are just what I have been looking for. Would I be able to use them in my essay?


    Friday, December 9, 2011 at 6:40 am | Permalink
  42. Kristin wrote:

    Thank you so much for these images! I will share them with my new mother friends. I wish I had had these when I was giving birth. When I asked my doctor about waiting to cut the cord, she acted like that was the craziest thing she had ever heard and questioned me on why I would ask such a question. If only I had had such striking information, perhaps I would have done a better job of responding.

    Tuesday, December 13, 2011 at 11:18 pm | Permalink
  43. Barbara Graves, CNM wrote:

    I often teach newborn transition and Evidence-based newborn care. These pictures are amazing. May I have permission to use them in my seminars?

    Thursday, December 15, 2011 at 11:00 am | Permalink
  44. Barbara Graves, CNM wrote:

    Do you have the information on the timing of the cord pictures between the right after birth and the 15 min picture?

    Thursday, December 15, 2011 at 11:11 am | Permalink
  45. elfanie wrote:

    What timing are you looking for, Barbara? I can give an approximation that the first picture was taking within the first minute or so of the birth….and then we took pictures “every so often” about every 3-5 minutes when we noticed that it had changed a little more. The last picture was taking about 15-20 minutes after the birth….

    is that what you were looking for?

    Thursday, December 15, 2011 at 3:08 pm | Permalink
  46. Barbara Graves, CNM wrote:

    Thaks for getting back to me about the timing of the photos… that was exactly what I was looking for!

    Thursday, December 15, 2011 at 3:19 pm | Permalink
  47. Gloria wrote:

    These photos are so great to have. I’m wondering if it would be possible to use the last one (all of them sequenced) to create a Screenr presentation. It’s a short 5 min video where I can talk over top of a photo and use my mouse to point out different things. Let me know if you’d be ok with that—I’d let you review it before sending it out, if you want. Gloria Lemay, Vancouver BC

    Thursday, December 15, 2011 at 11:42 pm | Permalink
  48. Shelley wrote:

    I am so happy to have stumbled on this! In my last class I had a client ask me how the cord changed after birth, and although I tried to explain it, this is perfect! Thank you, thank you, thank you!

    Thursday, January 19, 2012 at 2:11 pm | Permalink
  49. Tessa wrote:

    You are Awesome! Thanks for sharing… I gave birth to my youngest on my hands and knees and gently placed her under me until the cord stopped pulsating. Gravity works wonders 😉
    Hey… Are you already certified in placenta encapsulating and homeopathy?

    Thursday, January 19, 2012 at 4:16 pm | Permalink
  50. Hello

    These photos are fantastic.
    Would I be allowed to display them, with your reference, at my workshop & in my workshop guide, called ‘The Sacred Placenta’
    If you need more information about myself & this in general Iwill be happy for that.
    Thank you

    Tuesday, February 7, 2012 at 7:23 am | Permalink
  51. kristen wrote:

    my baby daughter’s birth was marked by a shoulder dystocia situation that took 11 minutes between head and body birthing… it was so extreme that she was completely unresponsive once fully born. there is no question that keeping the cord attached through the rescusitation time was simply lifesaving. these images illustrate why. had it been cut we would have severed her life source while her breathing was still adjusting. being with midwives who understood that was invaluable at a critical time. talk to your care provider during pregnancy and advocate to keep the cord attached as long as possible to protect baby during that transition! oxygen deprivation or mortality are pretty frightening alternatives.

    Saturday, March 10, 2012 at 8:45 am | Permalink
  52. Thanks so much for sharing. So much focus is on the placenta and baby that the cord is often forgotten. These are amazing pictures and just reaffirms that our bodies know exactly what to do!

    Monday, March 12, 2012 at 3:27 pm | Permalink
  53. Dana wrote:

    So if you do not clamp the umbilical cord… I am assuming you would not be able to do the cord banking?? Since everything drains out, then there is nothing left to bank?

    Friday, April 27, 2012 at 8:33 am | Permalink
  54. elfanie wrote:

    It doesn’t ‘drain out’….it provides the baby the correct blood volume. It’s POSSIBLE to bank, but less likely to be able to as you are less likely to be able to draw an adequate volume from a now-collapsed cord.

    Friday, April 27, 2012 at 9:44 am | Permalink
  55. Dana wrote:

    I didn’t mean “drain out” like to no where… I meant drain out of the actual cord into the baby… don’t get so offensive!!

    After reading more on it I did see that you probably couldn’t do both… No biggie!! Just being curious because I had never heard of not immediately cutting the cord. I wish I would have known about it. I wanted to save my daughters cord blood but was unable to financially so this would have been great to know about to do instead.

    Personally wanted to give the cord blood for research purposes to fine a cure for my kids medical condition… but this sounds cool too. Then again after your response felt like an attack it makes me think again….

    Friday, April 27, 2012 at 10:49 am | Permalink
  56. Nikasha wrote:

    Dana, I don’t think Elfanie meant offense. It’s just that not all of the blood in the placenta necessarily goes to the baby. The baby will get the correct amount of blood, and the remainder will be in the placenta. I have read of at least one situation where someone was able to do both delayed cord clamping and blood banking, but I don’t know if it is common for enough blood to be left behind.

    Tuesday, May 8, 2012 at 12:04 pm | Permalink
  57. Victoria wrote:

    Amazing pictures. I just had a home birth 3 1/2 months ago and we enjoyed watching the transfermation of our cord also. Birth is nothing short of a miracle.

    Tuesday, June 19, 2012 at 7:53 pm | Permalink
  58. Robin wrote:

    I have taken many birthing classes and done a lot of reading, but never come across this valuable information! I’m currently writing my birth plan now and had previously planned on donating the cord blood. I will certainly choose to drain the blood fully into the baby instead. I have a naive question, is the baby breathing on their own at this time before the cord is cut or does it not breathe on its own until after the cord is cut? Im trying to picture what the moments after birth will be like if the cord is still attached. Thanks for the great info!

    Thursday, June 21, 2012 at 8:34 pm | Permalink
  59. Damiana wrote:

    Beatifull!! Thanks!!! :)

    Monday, July 9, 2012 at 10:12 am | Permalink
  60. Karen wrote:

    This is a wonderful series. I would love to know — or if you ever repeat this exercise — how long past birth each photo was taken for time reference. For the science geek in me. :)

    Friday, August 3, 2012 at 12:41 pm | Permalink
  61. Tracey Coles wrote:

    Thank you for this. It partially explains how my daughter managed to live when she has no blood going to her lungs, so no oxygen to the rest of her body (persistent pulmonary hypertension of the newborn) and will help greatly in a poster I need to do on the plcenta and how it supports the foetus.

    Monday, September 24, 2012 at 11:07 am | Permalink
  62. elfanie wrote:

    Just please remember to add credit back to this site…I have seen my pictures ALL OVER the place without appropriate credit being given. =)

    Monday, September 24, 2012 at 11:11 am | Permalink
  63. Concerned wrote:

    Why isn’t the photographer credited in this post? Proper credit would include the photographer, not the hand-model.

    Wednesday, October 3, 2012 at 1:08 am | Permalink
  64. elfanie wrote:

    Hand model? You are anonymously concerned?
    Actually proper credit would include the WEBSITE it is being taken from as requested…..since we aren’t asking that you give credit to the “hand model” but to the website publishing the photographs.
    These photographs were taken by NHBS midwifery apprentice Jennifer Bass at the request of the hand-model who was gloved up and busy at the time – at an NHBS client’s birth with permission to both take and publish the pictures given by the generous client to NHBS.

    Notice the “hand model” is not mentioned nor is it requested that she receive credit…NHBS is. Please respect that. Thank you.

    Wednesday, October 3, 2012 at 1:35 am | Permalink
  65. Marie J. Taylor wrote:

    Hi, these are great pictures. Could I use them in my ‘magazine’ and link them back to your site please?
    Many thanks

    Monday, October 8, 2012 at 6:37 am | Permalink
  66. elfanie wrote:

    Absolutely…as long as credit is given…

    Monday, October 8, 2012 at 8:46 am | Permalink
  67. Amber wrote:

    YAY! I have been scouring for a good visual for hubbs to look atto give the ok for them to clamp and let him cut. Didn’t find a good one…found a GREAT one! Thanks so much. I will so be printing off the pics and putting them on the top of the diaper bag for the big day! Thank you thank you!

    Saturday, October 20, 2012 at 4:41 am | Permalink
  68. Denise Hynd wrote:

    Thank you I have linked this blog to my blog Hands off the Cord!

    Wednesday, November 7, 2012 at 1:55 pm | Permalink
  69. Eileen wrote:

    I want to bank some of my baby’s cordblood because of certain genetic conditions in my family, but I still want her to get a good amount before we clamp it. Is this even possible to do?

    Tuesday, December 4, 2012 at 9:48 pm | Permalink
  70. Asma wrote:

    Watermark the images to prevent theft.

    Saturday, December 8, 2012 at 1:59 pm | Permalink
  71. Tristi wrote:

    How long was the entire process for the cord to become white?

    Thursday, January 17, 2013 at 3:25 pm | Permalink
  72. WOW! I’m just starting to teach here in northern Spain and will definitely show these!!! Midwives, pregnant couples, and special courses for men. Thanks so much for this!!

    Monday, April 22, 2013 at 4:59 pm | Permalink
  73. Cora Mienis wrote:

    Thank you very much for these amazing photographs. It shows the miracle of life again.

    Tuesday, April 23, 2013 at 3:21 am | Permalink
  74. Thank you so much! these images make the point of delayed cord clamping beautifully.
    Thank you for your beautiful site.

    Tuesday, April 23, 2013 at 5:13 pm | Permalink
  75. April wrote:

    Thank you very much for these photos! I’m working on an evidence based practice project related to delayed cord clamping. I’m going to use these photos with the poster project- but I’ll give you full credit (in APA format, nonetheless!)

    Tuesday, May 7, 2013 at 9:40 pm | Permalink
  76. Susan Carroll wrote:

    Thanik you for these fascinating pictures. Among thoroughbred horses, there is a terrible condition among newborn foals. Blind Staggers causes these foals to have trouble getting to their feet, and when they do, they stumble around and can’t find their mother’s milk. The cause – immediate clamping of the cord by the attendants,depriving the foals of needed blood and oxygen. Mother Nature knows best.

    Tuesday, June 18, 2013 at 4:02 pm | Permalink
  77. r_e wrote:

    I am assuming that if the cord is allowed to stop pulsing on its own, cord blood donation is no longer an option due to the lower amount of blood left in the cord?

    Tuesday, June 18, 2013 at 11:51 pm | Permalink
  78. Joni wrote:

    As a postpartum doula I have only seen my daughters birth and my grandsons umbilical cord
    I never realized, how in only 15 minutes it would change
    Why are OB’s so quick to cut the cord?
    This was amazing! Thank you so very much for sharing
    I would love to post this on my website and of course I will link back to yours :)

    Thursday, June 20, 2013 at 3:53 pm | Permalink
  79. The Dad wrote:

    These pictures are from our second child (and second homebirth with NHBS). We are now pregnant with our third and just had our first appointment at NHBS earlier this week. I am going back through the old blog posts and as I am getting so very excited. Our first had a true knot in his cord. Our second had these amazing photos taken that have been appreciated by so many. She was also born in the caul and was fortunate to have been featured in a second NHBS blog post showing those utterly amazing photos as well. She was a star before she was even done being born and she hasn’t slowed down since. I can barely imagine with what manner of wonderment our third will arrive.
    If at all possible, I hope we can do another series of cord photos and time stamp them if our birth this time presnts the opportunnity.

    Friday, December 27, 2013 at 12:56 pm | Permalink
  80. Elouise wrote:

    Thanks, very nice pictures

    Monday, March 24, 2014 at 11:56 am | Permalink
  81. Thank you so much for this visual explanation of what the cord does as it continues to pulse. Since you first shared these images, I have shared this link with every childbirth class I have taught and it gives them such a deeper understanding of the process. Thank you for helping us help families understand the birthing process better.


    Monday, July 7, 2014 at 2:50 pm | Permalink
  82. Lyn wrote:

    I had my little boy at home and decided to delay cord cutting. It was about 15 minutes before we cut it and pretty much exactly as the photos show. When the cord was cut it was completely white and a little bit cold!

    Monday, August 25, 2014 at 7:21 am | Permalink
  83. Wow!! This is absolutely fascinating! I always wondered what the umbilical cord looked like still attached.

    I do have one question.. if the cord is left attatched like the above photos can you still collect and store the cord blood?

    Thank you so much for sharing this. It’s such a shame that doctors at hospitals and other places are so quick to cut the cord. This is especially true when the baby can receive so many benefits by leaving the umbilical cord attatched until it is no longer needed. If I ever had another baby I would absolutely keep the cord attatched.
    Take care, Terri of Two Pink Peas

    Tuesday, June 2, 2015 at 8:35 pm | Permalink

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