Top 5 Reasons to Delay Cord Clamping

Since the 1950s, it has been standard protocol after delivery, for doctors to clamp the umbilical cord, immediately after birth. In 2012, the World Health Organization (WHO) began recommending that doctors leave the umbilical cord alone for AT LEAST one full minute, in order to improve health outcomes for both mother and baby. (The only exception to this recommendation being when newborns require positive-pressure resuscitation.) The benefits of delayed cord clamping include:

  1. Delayed cord clamping increases birth weight, oxygen levels, and nutrients. When cord clamping is delayed, babies receive blood back from the placenta that contains immunoglobins and stem cells that would otherwise be discarded as medical waste.
  2. Delayed cord clamping increases iron levels in babies. This is especially helpful if you plan to breastfeed, as breastmilk only contains small amounts of iron. Getting a boost of iron at birth from delayed cord clamping has been proven to reduce iron anemia all the way through the first year of life!
  3. Studies have shown that delayed cord clamping lowers preterm babies’ risk of late-onset sepsis, necrotizing enterocolitis as well as intraventricular hemorrhage.
  4. Delayed cord clamping, combined with immediate skin to skin with mom has been shown to increase myelin development drastically. Myelin is a fatty substance in the brain that wraps around nerve cells. Better myelin production is associated with better brain processing.
  5. When babies are born, up to 1/3 of their blood volume remains in the placenta. When cord clamping is delayed, the blood will flow back to the newborn, increasing their blood volume, and reducing the risk of hemorrhage greatly.

Still, some doctors will not delay cord clamping and cutting, for three reasons:

  • Hyperbilirubinemia: this occurs when bilirubin levels build up in the blood. While babies are in the womb, the placenta is responsible for filtering out excess bilirubin, but after birth, the baby’s liver takes over. When bilirubin levels build up, it can cause a condition known as jaundice. Jaundice is common in infants and easily treated with phototherapy lights.  It is believed that higher stores of iron in the blood, caused by delayed cord clamping could cause jaundice. However, many reports have proven that there was no increased risk of jaundice in babies who received delayed cord clamping.
  • Polycythemia: this happens when there are excess red blood cells in circulation. When this happens, it can cause issues with breathing, circulation and can also lead to hyperbilirubinemia. It has been hypothesized that by allowing “extra” blood flow to the newborn, polycythemia can occur. However, Cochrane ran a meta-analysis on this exact concern and found that delayed cord clamping posed no increased risk for polycythemia.
  • Respiratory Distress: it has been suggested that due to the increase in blood volume caused by delayed cord clamping, infants may have transient tachypnea (rapid breathing). Cochrane also investigated this claim and found it to be false, as infants that had delayed cord clamping had no increase in respiratory distress, compared to those who had received immediate cord clamping. If an infant is born with respiratory distress, delayed cord clamping is not recommended, as it could slow resuscitation efforts.

The World Health Organization and the American College of Gynecology now agree that the risks of delayed cord clamping are greatly outweighed by the benefits, however, delayed cord clamping is still not a standard protocol in all hospitals. I greatly recommend opening a dialogue with your doctor during pregnancy if you wish to add delayed cord clamping to your care plan during birth. If you have any questions about how to do so, or how to write a birth plan, I’m always happy to help.

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