Clamping the umbilical cord straight after birth is bad for a baby's health

July 31, 2018 by Sally Pezaro, The Conversation
Umbilical cord clamps. Credit: KANOWA/Shutterstock.com

Clamping and cutting a baby's umbilical cord as soon as it is born can be bad for its health. The World Health Organisation advises that clamping should be delayed for two to three minutes after the baby has been born, and the UK watchdog NICE advices midwives and obstetricians not to clamp the cord earlier than one minute after the birth. But in nearly a third of cases, this doesn't appear to be happening.

In a survey of 3,500 parents whose children were born in the UK between 2015 and 2017, 31% said that their baby's cord was clamped less than a minute after they were born. One in five said that their baby's cord was cut immediately following the .

Life support

The umbilical cord consists of a vein and two arteries, which are surrounded by a gelatinous substance called Wharton's jelly. A membrane, called the amnion, holds the whole thing together.

During pregnancy, the umbilical cord vein carries oxygen-rich blood and nutrients from the placenta to the baby, and the arteries return deoxygenated blood and waste products, such as carbon dioxide, to the placenta.

A baby's blood supply is independent of its mother's, and remains within this closed circuit throughout pregnancy, labour and birth. As the baby is squeezed through the birth canal or an abdominal incision (if it's a caesarean birth), a lot of the baby's blood is pushed back into the placenta. But as the baby emerges, the umbilical cord – if left to pulsate – returns all of this blood to its rightful owner in a few minutes.

The cord continues to act as the baby's only oxygen supply until the baby starts to breathe, before the placenta becomes detached. So, even when a baby needs help to breathe, the cord should ideally remain intact as the baby is resuscitated at the bedside. If the umbilical cord is cut too early, the baby can be deprived of oxygen, 20-30% of its blood volume and 50% of its volume.

This shortage of blood will leave up to 30% of with iron-deficient anaemia. A review of 27 studies involving six to 24-month-old babies found that babies with iron-deficient anaemia have significantly poorer brain, physical, social and emotional functioning. Iron deficiency has also been linked to recurring infections, autism and learning difficulties.

A few minutes makes a big difference

Aside from reducing the risk of iron-deficiency anaemia, delaying clamping by a few minutes has a range of other health benefits, including: a reduced lifetime risk of developing , asthma, diabetes, epilepsy, cerebral palsy, Parkinson's disease, infection and abnormal tissue growths; a reduced risk of bowel infections, death in premature babies,sepsis and brain haemorrhage in very premature babies; and an increased likelihood of being more sociable and better behaved at age four.

Babies who have delayed cord clamping also enjoy higher birth weights, compared with babies who have their cords clamped immediately.

Ultimately, immediate cord clamping disrupts the natural birth process and may cause harm to some babies by depriving them of essential blood and stem cells. Waiting until the umbilical cord is empty of blood before clamping it is the way to go.

Explore further: Later cord clamping after birth increases iron levels in babies

Related Stories

Later cord clamping after birth increases iron levels in babies

July 10, 2013
Delaying clamping of the umbilical cord after birth benefits newborn babies, according to a systematic review published in The Cochrane Library. The authors found babies' blood and iron levels were healthier when the cord ...

Don't cut the cord too fast; a pause benefits most newborns

December 21, 2016
Don't cut that umbilical cord too soon: A brief pause after birth could benefit most newborns by delivering them a surge of oxygen-rich blood.

Delayed clamping of umbilical cord may be better for preemies

December 2, 2015
(HealthDay)—Delayed clamping of a preterm infant's umbilical cord leads to better motor function development, a new study suggests.

Changing where a baby is held after birth could lead to improved uptake of procedure that reduces infant iron deficiency

April 17, 2014
Changing where a newborn baby is held before its umbilical cord is clamped could lead to improved uptake in hospitals of delayed cord clamping, leading to a decreased risk of iron deficiency in infancy, according to new results ...

Delayed cord clamping protects newborn babies from iron deficiency

November 16, 2011
Waiting for at least three minutes before clamping the umbilical cord in healthy newborns improves their iron levels at four months, according to research published in the British Medical Journal today.

Recommended for you

Blood test may identify gestational diabetes risk in first trimester

August 16, 2018
A blood test conducted as early as the 10th week of pregnancy may help identify women at risk for gestational diabetes, a pregnancy-related condition that poses potentially serious health risks for mothers and infants, according ...

Artificial placenta created in the laboratory

August 14, 2018
In order to better understand important biological membranes, it is necessary to explore new methods. Researchers at Vienna University of Technology (Vienna) have succeeded in creating an artificial placental barrier on a ...

The inequalities of prenatal stress

August 14, 2018
Exposure to an acute stress in utero can have long-term consequences extending into childhood – but only among children in poor households, according to a new Stanford study that looked at the long-term impact of acute, ...

Better studies needed on effectiveness of fertility awareness-based methods for contraception

August 10, 2018
A new systematic review provides the most comprehensive assessment to date on the scientific evidence estimating the effectiveness of various fertility awareness-based methods (FABMs) for contraception. "Effectiveness of ...

Inducing labor at 39 weeks reduces likelihood of C-sections

August 8, 2018
Inducing labor in healthy first-time mothers in the 39th week of pregnancy results in lower rates of cesarean sections compared with waiting for labor to begin naturally at full term, according to a multicenter study funded ...

Three-dimensional model of human placenta developed

August 3, 2018
The placenta is the organ connecting mother and embryo. Its main functions are the exchange of nutrients, gases and metabolic products and the production of hormones and other substances essential for embryonic development. ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.