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What is an umbilical cord?

The umbilical cord is what connects an unborn baby to its mother and this is a key part of the system that provides the baby with all the nutrients and oxygen that they need to grow and develop. This cord runs from an opening in the baby’s stomach, which later becomes the belly button, to the placenta in the womb and is usually about 50cm long.

The umbilical cord is made up of one vein that carries oxygen and nutrient rich blood to the baby, and two arteries that returns the deoxygenated blood, carbon dioxide and other waste products back to the placenta. Closer to the end of the pregnancy, the placenta also passes any antibodies that the mother has to the baby to provide immunity from some infections for approximately three months after the baby is born.

Just after birth, the umbilical cord is rich with stem cells in the form of umbilical cord blood and hematopoietic stem cells. These are similar to those that are found in bone marrow. These stem cells can be used to create new red blood cells and cells for the immune system. They are commonly used to help treat a range of blood disorders and autoimmune diseases.