For years, obstetricians and mothers alike have noticed that babies born too early were gaining significant health benefits when they waited for a minute or two to cut the umbilical cord.
But a bevy of research in recent years found that delayed cord clamping has lasting benefits for healthy infants too, prompting the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) to issue new recommendations urging doctors to hold off on cutting the umbilical cord for 30 to 60 seconds after birth to allow additional blood to flow into the baby from the placenta.
The new guidance will likely transform the way many babies are delivered across the United States and spark new conversations between obstetricians and their patients about the science behind delayed cord clamping.
“In the past, doctors just clamped the cord and handed the new dad a pair of scissors to make the cut, without much more discussion than that,” said Dr. Pamela Berens, an OB/GYN at Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital and McGovern Medical School at UTHealth who has extensively studied the trend. “With these new recommendations, I expect more doctors are going to start making delayed cord clamping part of their routines.”
Here are four things every expectant mother should know about the issue:
1. Studies have found that delayed cord clamping offers numerous benefits for both pre-term and term babies.
Scientists have long understood the benefits of delayed cord clamping for preterm infants, who tend to face more health problems after birth. Research over the years has shown significant neonatal benefits, including improved circulation, better establishment of red blood cell volume and the decreased need for blood transfusions, as well as lower incidences of brain hemorrhages and an intestinal disease called necrotizing enterocolitis. Still, for a long time, cord clamping was seen as unnecessary for healthy babies, fueling a debate within the birthing community about the optimal timing for cutting the cord. Recent research, however, has shown that the extra blood helps these babies as well, increasing their hemoglobin levels at birth and boosting their iron stores. Curtailing the risk for iron deficiency in the first year of life can even help improve developmental outcomes, since iron deficiency has been tied to delays in cognition, motor skills and behavior, according to ACOG.
2. The risks are minimal.
Researchers have noted a small uptick in the incidence of jaundice in healthy babies who received too much blood from the placenta, but this complication can often be easily addressed by placing them under a heat lamp. Obstetricians and healthcare providers are urged to closely monitor any potential jaundice cases. Also, mothers who have had prior babies born with jaundice that was severe enough they needed phototherapy may want to consider forgoing delayed cord clamping. Discuss your health history with your obstetrician before making a decision.
3. Delayed cord clamping does not interfere with skin-to-skin contact.
In many delayed cord clamping studies, babies were held away from the mother until the umbilical cord was cut since obstetricians used gravity to pull the remaining blood from the placenta. This practice prevented moms from snuggling their newborns immediately after birth. Skin-to-skin contact is important. Newborns held against their mothers’ chests and tummies are happier, stay warmer, have higher blood sugar levels and more stable vital signs, as well as gain some protection from their mothers’ good bacteria. Dr. Berens studied more than 100 babies born at Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital and found that skin-to-skin contact did not interfere with the benefits of delayed cord clamping. “We were thrilled to discover that moms don’t have to compromise that wonderful bonding during the golden hour in order to reap the benefits of delayed cord clamping,” she said.
4. Waiting to cut the umbilical cord can lessen your chances of getting enough cord blood for donation or banking purposes.
Families who are considering banking their baby’s cord blood for possible future use, or those who may be thinking about donating it, should talk to their doctors before they opt for delayed cord clamping. “There’s a very real risk that they won’t get a good enough sample to bank or donate if they decide to go this route,” Dr. Berens said. “If you have your heart set on donating or if you’ve already decided to invest in the expense of a private bank, delayed cord clamping may not be the right choice for you.”
Click here for more information and resources about labor and delivery and women’s health, or talk to your OB/GYN about the best options for you and your baby.